Knicks have several backup centers ‘on their radar’ in free agency

Apr 9, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls center Andre Drummond (3) warms up before the game against the New York Knicks at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks just made a splash trade, acquiring forward Mikal Bridges from the Brooklyn Nets for Bojan Bogdanovic and several future draft picks. However, they are now at serious risk of losing center Isaiah Hartenstein in free agency, so they will now have to search for his replacement.

HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto tabbed a few potential options the Knicks can pursue in free agency. He mentioned Hornets’ center Nick Richards as a trade target, while Goga Bitadze, Jonas Valanciunas, and Andre Drummond are all free agents they can go after.

“As reported in the latest HoopsHype mock draft, should New York lose Hartenstein in free agency to a higher offer elsewhere, several centers are on their radar as potential replacements, including free agents Goga Bitadze, Jonas Valanciunas, and Nick Richards, who would be a trade target, league sources told HoopsHype. There’s also an outside chance the Knicks make a run at Andre Drummond, sources said,” Scotto wrote.

The Knicks are sure to be in the market for a center this summer

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

With Hartenstein’s departure becoming increasingly inevitable, the Knicks are going to likely have Mitchell Robinson return to the starting center position next season but will have to address the backup center spot either through the draft or the open market.

Bitadze and Valanciunas are the most intriguing targets, as they both would be fairly cheap and could provide high-impact play as a backup. Bitadze averaged 5.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 62 games with the Orlando Magic this past season, while Valanciunas averaged 12.2 points and 8.8 rebounds starting all 82 games for the New Orleans Pelicans.

If they were to sign Valanciunas, could he possibly start for them?

Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks

If the Knicks want Valanciunas, there is also the possibility of him starting over Mitchell Robinson in favor of more offense, which could raise his market value slightly. The 13-year veteran has come off the bench in just three games since the 2018-19 season, though given that he is now 32 years old the team might still play the more athletic Robinson over him. A potential Knicks offer could be similar to the one Hartenstein was playing under prior to his free agency, which was a two-year, $16 million contract.

Bitadze would be cheaper but is it worth handing out a contract?

NBA: Orlando Magic at New York Knicks
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Bitadze would be significantly cheaper for the Knicks but considering that he would likely play very little under head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks may be better off finding a center through the draft instead of handing out extra dollars that could be used towards an Anunoby contract. Bitadze averages just 12.8 minutes per game for his career and only played 10 total minutes in the first round of the 2024 playoffs with Orlando.

The first round of the draft starts Wednesday night and the second round commences the following day. Depending on who the Knicks end up taking, expect them to be in the market for a center when free agency starts on June 30.

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