While the New York Knicks made the first big splash of the 2023-24 season by acquiring OG Anunoby in their five-player trade with the Toronto Raptors, the Knicks are expected to remain active on the trade market for the elusive star between now and next season. As a result, the Knicks will also have some critical decisions to make on their own upcoming free agents this summer.
Isaiah Hartenstein is one of the players whom the Knicks will have to make a decision on, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic. The 7-foot center, who will be an unrestricted free agent, has been playing well since seeing his role increase following Mitchell Robinson’s season-ending injury on Dec. 8. Hartenstein has started the previous nine games.
NBA Rumors: Knicks May Not Be Able To Afford Isaiah Hartenstein This Offseason
New York (21-15) defeated Washington 121-105 on Saturday night to extend their winning streak to a season-high four straight games. The Knicks are now 9-6 without Robinson, including 5-4 in the contests Hartenstein has been in the starting lineup.
Hartenstein has always been known as an outstanding rebounder and an efficient low-post scorer. But the 25-year-old has never gotten a chance to be a full-time starter until now. Hartenstein was in the starting lineup a career-high eight times a season ago, although he averaged 24 minutes a game.
“I can play this role. That’s the biggest thing,” Hartenstein said after grabbing a career-high 20 rebounds last Wednesday. “I always had the confidence that I can really play it, but was never really in that situation.”
While Hartenstein had seen a significant bump in playtime since Robinson left the Dec. 8 game against Boston early, he has taken his game to a new level over the last week. Hartenstein finished Saturday’s game against the Wizards with eight points, 19 rebounds, two blocks, and four steals. It marked Hartenstein’s second game this week of 19+ rebounds, and the fifth straight contest he has recorded at least four steals/blocks.
“I’m impressed with the way he’s protecting the rim, to be honest,” Julius Randle told Katz. “We’re used to Mitch doing that, covering up for our mistakes when we get beat off the dribble. But he’s a monster doing that… He’s been amazing.”
New York Potentially Has Tough Decision To Make
If Hartenstein continues to play close to this level for the rest of the year, New York will have a tough decision.
In the nine games since being inserted into the starting five, Hartenstein has led the Knicks in rebounding three times and averages a team-best 10.7 boards. Hartenstein has posted a team-high 1.9 steals and 1.5 blocks while posting a +7.2 plus/minus rating, second to only Anunoby during this stretch. He also has contributed 8.7 points on 62.7% shooting and 3.0 assists in nearly 35 minutes as a starter.
“He’s been playing phenomenal,” Jalen Brunson added when talking about Hartenstein. “He has been able to do that. Obviously, with Mitch being out, his minutes increase and all that stuff, but he’s been great. … We all knew that’s what he’s capable of.”
Hartenstein will hit the open market for the fourth time in his career. He signed a two-year, $16 million with the Knicks the last time. The big man is currently making $9.2 million and will likely get a hefty raise this offseason.
Therein lies the problem for New York.
New York has 10 players under contract for next year, with their salaries totaling $149.2 million. That would put the Knicks $22.7 million below the NBA tax threshold. Anunoby is also due for a massive contract after he declines his $19.9 million player option.
However, Evan Fournier, who has a $19 million club option, certainly won’t be in the Big Apple next year if he remains with the team the rest of the season. Jericho Sims only has a partial guarantee for next season but will likely be kept around while the Knicks go “big-name” hunting this summer.
What Should The Knicks Should Do?
I am sure that the Knicks would like to re-sign Hartenstein this offseason. But with rumors of the Knicks wanting to bring in another “star” this summer to go alongside Anunoby and Brunson, it may not be feasible for the Knicks to do so.
New York does own Hartenstein’s Early Bird rights. Katz said the NBA midlevel exception projects to be approximately $56 million over four years, starting in 2024-25. However, Katz projects that Hartenstein could command around $15 million if he continues to play the way he is.
The Knicks are believed to have the assets, players, and draft capital to secure their long-wanted second star. If the Knicks are successful in this, they may decide that Achiuwa, who will undoubtedly be cheaper, is the better option.
“Right now, I’m a New York Knick,” Hartenstein said. “That’s the biggest thing. I feel like, yeah, sometimes you have that in the back of your mind. That’s normal. At the end of the day, I wanna be in New York, but it’s a business… I’m gonna get paid, but that’s not the main thing right now. The main thing is, I wanna play good for New York and then everything after will kinda take care of itself.”