Knicks’ key rotational piece takes one for the team to open up salary space

Josh Hart, New York Knicks
Feb 11, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) talks with guard Josh Hart (3) during the second half against the Utah Jazz at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks can look forward to a busy off-season. Still, a key player in their rotation, Josh Hart, eased the team’s burden on Thursday by accepting his player option at $12.9 million for the 2023–24 season.

Hart’s Journey: From Trail Blazers to Influential Knick

Hart’s journey with the Knicks began following his acquisition from the Portland Trail Blazers. He quickly transformed into one of the Knicks’ most influential players, performing exceptionally on both sides of the ball. His impressive stats included an average of 10.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and a .586 shooting average from the field, accompanied by a .519% success rate from downtown.

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Balancing Team Chemistry and Financial Constraints

While the Knicks were keen to maintain Hart’s presence on the roster, given his high effort and chemistry with teammate Jalen Brunson, they also faced the challenge of freeing up funds for free-agency acquisitions. Notably, players like Donte DiVincenzo of the Golden State Warriors are on the Knicks’ radar; DiVincenzo is seeking a new deal after opting out of his player option.

Hart’s Strategic Player Option Choice

In anticipation of negotiating a long-term contract with the Knicks, Hart chose the $12.9 million player option, a move designed to balance potential salary losses.

Hart, who is only 28 years old, has several prime years remaining in his career. His ability to contribute significantly off the bench and serve as a starting player in the event of injuries makes him an invaluable asset to the team. His clutch performances during the past season’s playoffs and leadership role were notable.

Tax Exemption Advantage: More Space for Salary

The Knicks can utilize their tax exemption to effectively nullify Hart’s contract, thus creating additional salary space. While acquiring another key depth piece in free agency would be ideal, the Knicks have also been involved in numerous star trade discussions, primarily focusing on players like Paul George and, more recently, James Harden.