Knicks pull off a genius move to clear salary space

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau with guard Jalen Brunson (11) against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last few days, the New York Knicks have made a number of moves to reinforce their championship aspirations for the 2024–25 season. Acquiring Mikal Bridges from the Brooklyn Nets enhances defense and scoring production from the wing. However, offloading Bojan Bogdanovic to Brooklyn helps offset Bridges’ $23.3 million salary for the next season.

Financial Strategy Behind the Trade

The Knicks had to pay Bojan $2 million in guarantees, so they saved $17 million from moving him to Brooklyn. There’s about a $6 million differential for Bridges, which is minor in the context of NBA team salary caps. However, the Knicks are close to reaching the $178 million apron, currently sitting at $172 million in team salary, according to ESPN. They still have a number of moves to make to reinforce the roster but possess a few options up their sleeve.

The Knicks Are Still Making Moves

They could trade Mitchell Robinson, saving $14.3 million, and allocate that money to Isaiah Hartenstein, but that would still leave a vacancy at backup center.

Dec 8, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA;  New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) looks on during the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Fortunately, the Knicks managed a few genius financial moves to open up more salary space. They traded away one of their first-round picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for five future second-rounders, highlighting the often minimal impact of draft picks in the NBA compared to acquiring a proven talent like Bridges, who comes with two years of control.

Building Financial Flexibility

I would expect the Knicks to add a few extra pieces to the Bridges deal, shedding a bit more salary space and opening up more financial flexibility. The Knicks need to clear enough space to be hard-capped at the second apron, which is $189.5 million.

Ian Begley of SNY reports that this would give them enough money to offer Hartenstein a deal starting at $16.2 million. They have Hartenstein’s Early Bird Rights, which provides a bit more leeway, but another team could quickly outbid them, potentially taking him out of their price range.

The Importance of Hartenstein

The problem is that Hartenstein has developed tremendous chemistry with the Knicks and is a reliable piece, not to mention an above-average playmaker at the center position. Robinson is a phenomenal defender but unreliable, especially during the playoffs when he consistently gets hurt.

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

Trading Robinson and adding a few pieces to the Bridges deal would open up enough salary space for the front office to potentially go beyond the four-year, $72 million deal they can offer Hartenstein. He’s expected to attract heavy interest in free agency, with OKC as a potential option, who have substantial salary space. Expect plenty of moves to be made over the next few days, but keeping Hartenstein would certainly round out a dominant starting five and a deep rotation that includes Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo.

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