Knicks’ free agent center Isaiah Hartenstein meets with potential suitor

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) is defended by New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) during the second half during game two of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks are strategically maneuvering their salary cap to possibly extend Isaiah Hartenstein on a long-term deal, despite the challenge of managing a tight budget.

Knicks’ Roster and Strategic Acquisitions

Currently, Mitchell Robinson holds the primary starting center position for the Knicks, with Hartenstein exploring options on the open market. The team’s recent trades and extensions, including acquiring Mikal Bridges and extending OG Anunoby, emphasize bolstering the wing with robust defenders and capable scorers. These moves are particularly aimed at enhancing the team’s competitive edge, possibly against teams like the Boston Celtics in the playoffs, should the Knicks advance that far during next year’s playoffs.

Apr 14, 2024; New York, New York, USA;  Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) looks to drive past New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) in the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Hartenstein’s Impact and Market Interest

Despite starting as a backup, Hartenstein emerged as a key player last season, stepping up significantly during Robinson’s absence due to injury. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Oklahoma City Thunder are actively pursuing Hartenstein, with a meeting scheduled in Oregon on Sunday to discuss potential opportunities.

Hartenstein’s performance last season included averages of 7.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, and an impressive field goal percentage of .664. His playoff statistics further showcased his value, improving to 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, along with 3.5 assists, demonstrating his critical role in high-stakes games.

May 19, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) reacts during the third quarter of game seven of the second round of the 2024 NBA playoffs against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Financial Strategy and Future Considerations

The Knicks are focused on avoiding the first salary apron set at $178 million to possibly free up enough space to offer Hartenstein a lucrative deal. His Early Bird Rights would allow for a contract maxing out at $16.4 million annually, but he’s bound for a higher AAV.

Meanwhile, the Thunder, with only $170.6 million in total cap allocations compared to the Knicks’ $226 million, could potentially offer a more attractive deal financially.

At the end of the day, New York will have to make some difficult decisions, but if they can find a creative way to bring Hartenstein back, their playoff hopes will get another boost.

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