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Rumor: Thunder most likely to poach Isaiah Hartenstein from Knicks

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Isaiah Hartenstein made himself a lot of money this season, especially during the playoffs — probably too much for the Knicks to keep him.

Make no mistake, Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks will want to keep him, but because New York only has his Early Bird Rights, the max deal the Knicks can put on the table is four years, $72.5 million. The expectation around the league is that some team with cap space and in need of a more traditional center will come in over the top and offer more — north of $80 million and closer to $90 million for four years — and Hartenstein will take it.

Enter the Oklahoma City Thunder, Stephan Bondy of the New York Post writes.

The Thunder is viewed by NBA sources as the top threat to pry Hartenstein away from the Knicks in free agency… The Thunder has roughly $35 million in cap space and a glut of draft assets to build on its surprising success last season.

“It’s real,” an NBA source said of OKC’s interest in Hartenstein.

Bondy added Oklahoma City could make a huge short-term offer — say, two years, $45-50 million — that gives both sides flexibility and gets Hartenstein back on the free agent market in a couple of years as the salary cap starts to climb fast from the new television rights deal.

It’s no secret Oklahoma City is in the market for a quality traditional center to back up Chet Holmgren, the need for a player in that role became obvious during the Thunder’s playoff run (to most observers, it was obvious before the playoffs, but OKC understandably wanted to see what it’s young core could do before making any moves). They have been rumored to be considering trading up in the NBA draft later this month to get Donovan Clingan, the 7’2″ center who anchored UConn’s run to a national title.

Hartenstein is a more proven player at the NBA level. There’s a legitimate argument that OKC shouldn’t spend $20+ million a season for a backup center — Holmgren will start in the Thunder’s five-out system, which operates on the same principles Boston uses — but it’s more of a supply and demand issue. Hartenstein and the Nets’ Nic Claxton are the best free-agent centers on the market, and there’s a good chance Brooklyn will pay up to keep Claxton. That leaves a lot of teams with cap space eyeing Hartenstein and an expectation in league circles that the bidding will start at $20 million a season, or four years, $80 million, which is more than the Knicks can offer. (I know from my X mentions that many Knicks fans don’t believe that… okay. Just know I’m not the only one hearing and writing those figures. Also remember the cap is about to rocket up in the NBA with the new television deal and three years into that contract it’s going to be very reasonable and tradable.)

Hartenstein loves the Knicks and playing in New York, but this is a business. Drafted in the second round, Hartenstein has made $13.4 million total in his five NBA seasons. He is going to get an offer paying him more than that next season alone, and he’s not in a position to be giving teams discounts. This will be Hartenstein’s first big contract, his first chance at “my kids are taken care of for life” wealth, and he will take the biggest offer on the table.

Don’t be surprised if that’s from Oklahoma City.

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