Well, somebody is playing for a new contract… Let’s be frank, Mario Hezonja has had an auspicious season, in which he has continuously sandwiched mediocre displays either side of the odd good outing.
However, with just a handful of games left to go, something seems to have snapped in the Croatian’s head that he needs to ‘ball out’ as he heads into free agency, and he started that spike in production by dropping a career high of 29 on his former team, Orlando Magic. A rotational player at best throughout his first season at The Garden, Hezonja took a one-year ‘prove it’ deal with the Knicks last off-season, fulfilling a childhood dream of playing in the Big Apple. The fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft, great heights were projected for the 6ft 8in power forward, who had already competed professionally in the Euro League with FC Barcelona in Spain.
His career high night against his former team was the only real shining light from the Magic loss, and with a trip to Houston next on the agenda, very little was expected. Those sentiments rang true as the Rockets strolled to a 120-96 win over the struggling Knicks, but once again Hezonja proved to be the talk of the game from a New York standpoint. David Fizdale rolled the dice and announced Hezonja would start the game at point guard, a weird but ultimately wonderful maverick decision from the Knicks Head Coach. Mario scored 16 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and made 11 assists. Yep, you added that up correctly, a first-ever career triple-double. Forget Mudiay, Smith Jr, or even Ntilikina, is Mario Hezonja the future of the Knicks’ point guard situation?
No, you’re not having an existential crisis, this is the world we are living in now. Time to see if that triple-double performance was just one of those once-in-a-lifetime things, like a solar eclipse. Nope, he had another great evening on the hardwood. He didn’t quite drop double figures in every major category again, but he did go one better than the Magic game by reaching a new career high in points with 30, as well as six rebounds and five assists, leading the Knicks to their 16th win on the season against the Washington Wizards.
After the game, Hezonja spoke to the media, and he had one real message to send to Knicks owner James Dolan about his upturn in the form: ‘Let’s talk.’ As per northjersey.com, Hezonja said the following about his improved performances and impending free agency.
“I’m ready to talk to [owner Jim] Dolan,” Hezonja said. “If he gives me that call on July 1, we’re done.”
Plain and simple. Hezonja wants to be a Knick next season, and the season after that, and probably the season after that too. Oh as if it was that simple. Overall, Mario can be a nice rotational piece as mentioned earlier, clearly showing he can put up decent numbers in terms of points, boards, and assists. However, he needs to be paid, and we presume paid pretty well. It’s highly doubtful that he will be cast aside without a second thought, but if this chat with the front office does indeed take place, what sum of money is he hoping for?
The expected ending to Hezonja’s New York fairytale is that it will be short and sweet, and over after one season. Priorities lie with bringing in marquee free agents, with the rest of the squad outside of 2019 rookies and already contracted players taking a back seat.
Hezonja definitely can’t hurt his chances of grabbing a new deal, but will every point he scores against the Bulls and the Pistons tack on another few dollars to his potential extended contract, most definitely.
Featured Image: Sarah Stier, Getty Images