Stay or Go: Should Knicks re-sign Isaiah Hartenstein for 2024-25 season?

Much like his teammates, Isaiah Hartenstein seemingly found a long-term NBA home in his brief time with the New York Knicks. Originally signed to a two-year, $16 million deal following the 2021-22 season, Hartenstein emerged as one of the best backup centers in the league before successfully taking over as a starter this past year.

After playing for five teams in six NBA seasons, Hartenstein may be looking into settling in with a Knicks franchise that’s poised to compete, has great locker room chemistry and will want to commit long-term. The only thing potentially stopping them from doing so is another team swaying Hartenstein with a much higher offer.

New York has no reason not to return Hartenstein. After playing in all 82 games as a dependable backup big in 2022-23, Hartenstein became a full-time starter early this season after Mitchell Robinson went down with an ankle injury.

He stepped up massively in Robinson’s absence, protecting the rim to a similar level and growing into more of a threat on the other end. He developed a strong on-court relationship with Jalen Brunson, started relying on his floater and became an offensive hub out of the high post.

He averaged 7.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks on 64.4 percent shooting from the field during the regular season. His strong performance held through a sore Achilles that bothered him through the year, and into the playoffs where he went up against Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam.

Hartenstein’s exceptional two-way play will make him a hot target in unrestricted free agency, and as much as the Knicks may want to keep him, they’re limited in matching the open market. They have his early bird rights, meaning they can re-sign him to 175 percent of his previous salary or 120 percent of the league average figure, putting their max offer around $16-17 million a year.

There are a number of teams with cap space this offseason that could go higher than $20 million in pursuit of Hartenstein’s services. If there’s a big enough gap in the salaries, would Hartenstein take a serious look elsewhere?

One alternative New York could employ is offering him a one-year deal, with the promise they’d offer a larger, long-term extension once they get his full bird rights the following summer. The goodwill they’ve built up with various players these past few seasons could help facilitate such an agreement.

There’s little reason for them to look beyond Hartenstein.

May 10, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Pascal Siakam (43) dribbles the ball while New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) defends during game three of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Robinson is arguably better when healthy, but has played in 70 games just once in his career. Precious Achiuwa is a nice backup five, and Jericho Sims does fine in an emergency, but neither can replicate what Hartenstein brings to the floor.

New York would be losing a valuable piece for nothing, with no upside unless they desperately want to stay under the luxury tax. If for some reason they see a reason to move on, they’d be better off hoping he re-signs and trade him.

Chances are that he’ll end up back in the blue and orange. He’s spoken openly about his happiness playing for this team, and the Knicks have every reason to throw what they can at him, with few enticing alternatives available.

New York found a special connection with this group of players, they’ll want to preserve that, top to bottom. Unless Hartenstein gets absolutely blown away, he should be glad to stay.