Isaiah Hartenstein's free agency set to be one of NBA's most interesting this offseason

isaiah hartenstein's free agency set to be one of nba's most interesting this offseason

Isaiah Hartenstein's free agency set to be one of NBA's most interesting this offseason

This NBA offseason stands to be good to Isaiah Hartenstein.

The New York Knicks center had a career year in 2023-24, taking over the starting role when Mitchell Robinson got injured in December and never relinquishing it (in part because Robinson was not healthy enough to take it back).

In 49 games as a starter, Hartenstein averaged 8.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 64% from the field.

Those numbers somewhat undersell his impact. Hartenstein became a formidable rim protector for the Knicks, and his ability to make plays out of the pick-and-roll and finish floaters in the paint was a huge boost to the Knicks offense when defenses trapped Jalen Brunson.

Now, as Hartenstein enters free agency, he is set to cash in on a career year. However, just what Hartenstein will get — and from whom — is a fascinating storyline to this NBA offseason.

Re-signing Hartenstein is a priority for the Knicks, but they are limited in what they can offer him while several teams lurk with cap space this summer.

What can the Knicks offer Hartenstein?

The Knicks have Hartenstein's Early Bird Rights, which means they can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him, but are limited in what kind of raise they can offer him.

According to SNY's Ian Begley, the most the Knicks can offer Hartenstein is a four-year, $72 million contract. Considering Hartenstein is coming off a two-year, $16 million contract with the Knicks, that would be a healthy raise for the 26-year-old big man.

Begley reported that retaining Hartenstein is a priority for the Knicks. Hartenstein has said publicly that he would like to remain in New York.

Will that be enough to keep Hartenstein?

That's where it gets interesting.

According to Spotrac, there are currently 13 players listed as centers whose average annual salary is $18 million or more. That includes superstars like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Anthony Davis, but the bottom of that list includes players like Clint Capela, Myles Turner, Jarrett Allen, Nikola Vucevic, and Jakob Poeltl.

Is Hartenstein more valuable than those players? He is almost certainly better than Poeltl and Vucevic, but it's less certain beyond those two.

If the Knicks were to offer Hartenstein that $72 million deal, it presumably would take another team willing to offer more than $18 million per season to lure him away. Just how much do teams value a defensive-minded big man who can make plays and finish with touch in the paint?

Some teams with cap space this offseason include the Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons, and Utah Jazz.

It's a rare summer where there are competitive teams with cap space. Hartenstein could potentially earn a raise while still entering a winning situation.

But would any of those teams spend big to sign Hartenstein? The 76ers get demolished every team Embiid sits down, so backup center should be a priority for them. But would they really devote that much cap space just to sign a backup, one who could not play alongside Embiid?

The Thunder badly need size and rebounding, but would they also spend big money on Hartenstein, knowing they will often likely close games with Chet Holmgren at center?

The Magic have plenty of size already — do they view Hartenstein as enough of an upgrade over their current big men when shooting and ball-handling are more pressing needs?

The Pistons should be willing to offer Hartenstein big money to help their rebuild, but would Hartenstein be want to leave a winning situation just for a big contract?

Can a shorter contract come into play?

It may be more beneficial for Hartenstein to take a short-term contract, then re-enter free agency again in a few years.

This route could also complicate things.

The Knicks could try sell Hartenstein on something like a two-year, $32 million contract, offering him an immediate raise and a chance to re-enter free agency again in two years, when he'll be just 28. By then, the Knicks will have his full Bird Rights and could offer him anything they wanted.

Of course, that same scenario might be just as enticing for other teams. Could another team offer, say, two years, $50 million for Hartenstein? It would be substantial amount of money, but not the type of long-term investment that can damage a team's cap sheet.

And with the Knicks limited in how much they can offer Hartenstein, that type of short-term, big-money contract might be the best way to lure him away.

It's a great situation for Hartenstein to be in. And in an NBA era where high-quality role players are becoming increasingly valuable, Hartestein's free agency will be an interesting test case in just how much teams value a starting center who is not a star.

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