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Report: Thunder is ‘top threat’ to nab Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein in free agency

Isaiah Hartenstein NBA
Could Isaiah Hartenstein be on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s radar? (John Jones-USA TODAY Sports)

Report: Thunder is ‘top threat’ to nab Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein in free agency

New York Knicks big Isaiah Hartenstein has never been a full-time starting caliber center until this year, when he filled in for an injured Mitchell Robinson, a spot he did not relinquish (when healthy) after taking over in December.

As a result, Hartenstein, who signed a two-year deal worth $16 million with the Knicks ahead of the 2022-23 season, had a career season. Now, the 26-year-old unrestricted free agent should have a much bigger market with multiple suitors. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the “top threat” to nab the 7-footer.

“The competition for Isaiah Hartenstein could very well include a team with a dangerous trio — cap space, legitimate title aspirations and need for a center,” Bondy wrote earlier this week. “The Thunder is viewed by NBA sources as the top threat to pry Hartenstein away from the Knicks in free agency.”

Bondy mentioned that the Knicks are capped out with what they can give Hartenstein because they don’t control his full bird rights–only his early bird rights. Thus, the Knicks are prohibited from giving him more than roughly $72 million with a max starting salary north of $16 million. The Thunder, however, are projected to have $35.3 million in cap space this offseason, according to Spotrac.

He averaged 7.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks. Hartenstein was one of the most effective offensive rebounders in the sport, finishing second in offensive rebounding percentage and third in contested rebounding percentage amongst centers (min. 1000 minutes played), per NBA.com’s Second Spectrum tracking data.

I wrote speculated ahead of the trade deadline that Oklahoma City could be in the running for a stretch big–one who better fits into their 5-out mold. Hartenstein’s not the perfect stretch big, but he’s an exceptional screen-setter, short-roll playmaker and offensive initiator above-the-break or at the nail. That could greatly benefit Oklahoma City’s creators in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams, as well as fit alongside Chet Holmgren and Jaylin Williams.

The Thunder were also one of the worst rebounding teams in the sport. As I noted above, Hartenstein helps fill that void ten-fold. He’s also better defensively than he gets credit for and it wouldn’t exactly be a detriment to OKC’s top-5 group.

Whether it’s the perfect fit or most cost-effective move for Oklahoma City is a different question. But it’s one worth considering as we’re just weeks away from the start of free agency.

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