Isaiah Hartenstein was a critical factor in the Knicks’ magical run this season to the East’s two-seed and to the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The big man is due to be a free agent this summer, and as soon as the final buzzer sounded on his last year under contract in New York, rumors began to swirl about his fate and haven’t stopped since.

The center certainly made a name for himself. They earned him a big payday with his incredible performance, stepping up to replace the fallen Mitchell Robinson this season and being hugely impactful on the defensive and offensive sides of the ball in the playoffs.

With that being said, will the Knicks be able to afford to keep their budding star of a center? Or will he price himself out of New York?

Let’s take a look at a few of his potential landing spots, how determined the Knicks are to keep him, and how determined he is to stay in his new home in New York. 

Hartenstein’s Story, So Far

The 7-foot center out of Eugene was drafted 43rd overall by the Houston Rockets in 2017 and only played a combined 97 games throughout his first four seasons in the NBA for Houston, Denver, and Cleveland. He played 68 games for the Clippers in the 2021-2022 season and stepped up into a slightly larger role before coming to the Knicks in the 2022-2023 season, where he became a valuable piece to the resurgent New York squad, playing all 82 games that season. However, in year 2 with the Knicks, the big man really stepped up when starting center Mitchell Robinson went down with a broken ankle in December.

Hartenstein was thrust into the starting position and found success down the stretch. He finished the regular season with 7.8 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game, and 2.5 assists per game. His performance in the playoffs was incredible, with the crown jewel of his playoff games coming in a crucial game 5 against Indiana, where he had a remarkable performance on the boards with a record-breaking twelve offensive rebounds and seventeen rebounds overall.

How Much Money Does He Want?

Per Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, Hartenstein is believed to likely try for a contract of at least $80 million and possibly close to or above $100 million. Because of his Early Bird Rights, the Knick’s offer to him would be $72.5 million over four seasons, well short of his potential other offers, which will unfortunately increase the likelihood of him walking to another team in free agency.

Hartenstein is eligible to sign a maximum four-year contract with any franchise in the NBA after July 1st. 

Potential Suitors?

Reports have indicated that the Oklahoma City Thunder are potentially contenders for signing Hartenstein. They have been linked to the center, in large part due to the rebounding problem they had in their second-round defeat to the now finals-bound Mavericks. The Thunder could offer Hartenstein significantly more money than the Knicks.

Another team previously linked to Hartenstein is the Orlando Magic, who had been interested in signing him prior to the 2022-2023 season when he was a free agent and ended up signing with the Knicks. The New Orleans Pelicans and the Detroit Pistons have also been noted as potential suitors. 

How Important is Hartenstein?

Simply put, very.

The big man was a crucial piece to the Knicks’ newfound success in the past two seasons, and without him, the Knicks will be in a tough situation regarding their center position. They still have Mitchell Robinson, who made a valiant and inspiring effort to return to the team this past season for the playoffs before going down with a re-injured ankle in the second round. While he has had some success and has been a fan-favorite for years, he has had injury trouble, which has limited his time on the court. Other than him, Jericho Sims is the only other center on the roster. 

If the Knicks lose Hartenstein, they might have to go outside the organization to find a new big man. They do hold three picks in the upcoming NBA draft, the 24th, 25th, and 38th overall. New York has been linked to a few centers in this year’s draft class, such as Kel’el Ware out of Indiana. Another center hitting the free agent market this summer is Jonas Valanciunas of the New Orleans Pelicans. His expected salary would be closer to what the Knicks can offer, around $13 million annually. Other than him and obviously Hartenstein, the free agent market is lacking in other impactful centers this offseason.

Business is Business 

When discussing his future in an interview with Michael Scotto of HoopsHype on April 5th, Hartenstein said:

“I know I’ve put myself in a great position to get a little upgrade. Right now, I’m focused on the Knicks. I love it here, and hopefully, we’ll figure something out, but at the end of the day, business is business.”

Isaiah Hartenstein went from backup to starter and solidified himself in this great Knicks team core throughout his past two seasons in New York. He’s without a doubt a fan-favorite, and New Yorkers don’t want him going anywhere. Unfortunately, financially, the Knick’s hands are all but tied, as the $72.5 million offer they can make will likely not be nearly as much as other suitors, such as possibly the Thunder and Magic, are able to make.

The big man seems to desire to stay in New York, but recent reports suggest that, in a cruel twist of fate, his incredible and inspiring play for the city may end up pricing him out of the city.

Whatever contract Hartenstein ends up with, the Knicks know better than anyone that he earned it.
However, every New Yorker hopes that the budding star we got to watch has a meteoric rise and continues to play his home games at the Garden.


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