Knicks return makes the most sense for their coveted free-agent center

New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) dunks in the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA world will be Isaiah Hartenstein’s oyster this summer, but the New York Knicks make the most sense for the emergent big man to return to.

Many teams are already popping up as soon-to-be clamorers for Hartenstein. The German-American center earned that attention after averaging a career-high stat line of 7.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 blocks, and 1.2 steals on 64.4 percent shooting from the field in 2023-24.

Knicks: Isaiah Hartenstein has reason to pass up a bigger payday from the Thunder & Grizzlies

Mar 31, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) shoots the ball while being defended by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins (21) during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Hartenstein could take his talents to teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Memphis Grizzlies this offseason. However, both of those suitors have as many downsides as upsides for the playmaking big man. The Thunder are well set with 2024 Rookie of the Year runner-up Chet Holmgren manning the middle.

They also have Most Improved Player of the Year candidate Jalen Williams cemented at the four. Hartenstein may not want to come off the bench even if it means earning a higher payday with a young Thunder team that likes to play fast and spaced out.

The Grizzlies have an enticing situation to sell the playmaking five man on. Former MVP candidate Ja Morant will be returning from a torn labrum sustained last season. The Grizzlies have a need for a spry center to set screens for Morant and Desmond Bane and also make plays in the middle of the court in pick-and-roll situations.

While Memphis could offer him more money, less competition at center, and a fresh, competitive environment out West, the Knicks could make Hartenstein a champion next season.

Hartenstein could find staying with the Knicks to be a blessing in disguise

May 12, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) shoots the ball while New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) defends during game four of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks are after an All-Star. Should they get a legitimate 1B to Jalen Brunson’s 1A or vice versa, that could ship Mitchell Robinson out of town. Without Robinson, Hartenstein would be the permanent starter at center, with Achiuwa and Julius Randle able to play next to him at the four. Sims would be the only traditional backup five behind him.

There are many changes that are expected to come to New York’s roster this summer. Should they get a game-changer, there will be ample opportunities for Hartenstein to get busy in the screen-and-roll and crash the boards for a team that was one game, and perhaps one more healthy player away from making the 2024 Eastern Conference Finals.

He was a perfect fit at Madison Square Garden. It’s the Knicks’ hope that he rejoins their side of the chessboard next season. It may suit him best, and earn him the money he’s worth, even if it’s deferred for a couple of years, along with a great shot at a ring.

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