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Stay or Go: Should Knicks re-sign OG Anunoby?

Just before the new year, the Knicks traded RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, two of their most prized prospects at the time, for OG Anunoby in the biggest shakeup of the Leon Rose era. Not only would they be gambling on Anunoby as the missing piece, giving up two core pieces, but they did so with full knowledge of his impending unrestricted free agency this summer.

Obviously, they wouldn’t go through with the deal without a high level of confidence he’d re-sign, but free agency can be unpredictable, and the Knicks need to consider how much is too much to retain him. Other teams may drive up the market simply out of spite, making it more painful for New York to keep its big addition.

Still, it’s hard to imagine the Knicks scoffing at any figure given the impact Anunoby’s had on their team in such a short time. He averaged 14.1 points and 4.4 rebounds on 55.3 percent shooting from two and 39.4 percent from three, solid and efficient production that doesn’t come close to capturing his value.

New York was 26-6 with Anunoby in the lineup, including the postseason. During the regular season they outscored opponents by 353 points in the 802 minutes he was on the floor.

In just his first month in a Knicks uniform, Anunoby meshed well enough with Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle to spark a 12-2 run, including mostly comfortable wins over Minnesota, Philadelphia and Denver. At times he single-handedly swung games with an elite two-way two-minute stretch, championship-level defense on one end leading to precision looks on the other.

He missed time due to an elbow injury and the Knicks felt his absence, but despite a later re-aggravation he was ready to go heading into the playoffs.

Anunoby proved his worth and some in the postseason, starting with a first round defensive clinic. He was the only Knick able to somewhat deter the explosive Tyrese Maxey, then turned around to steal a pivotal Game 4 behind a valiant effort helping guard Joel Embiid down the stretch.

He only averaged 15 a night, but they felt bigger than that figure, often coming off a steal or in the clutch. Some of the biggest moments of the series - a dagger three in Game 1 and monster dunk over Embiid late in Game 6 - came from Anunoby.

Come the Pacers series, it looked as if Anunoby was finding his stride offensively. In the first half of Game 2, he put up 28 points on 10-19 shooting before going down to a hamstring issue.

It hasn’t been the largest sample size, but it’s already evident Anunoby is a perfect fit for Tom Thibodeau, his co-stars, and whatever the eventual championship version of this Knicks team looks like. The only qualifier being: when healthy.

Anunoby doesn’t have any specific recurring issues, however he is constantly getting nagged by some random injury. He’s yet to crack 70 games played since his rookie season, and has eclipsed 60 once in the past four seasons.

Those are alarming numbers when you’re about to offer up a long-term deal that could go north of $30 million a year. SNY’s NBA Insider Ian Begley expects around a $35 million annual figure for Anunoby.

That would immediately make him the highest-paid Knick. They can offer him up to roughly $49 million a year, while other teams can get to $45.5 million.

If an opposing front office gets frisky, they can throw a $40 million-plus contract at Anunoby, if only to make the Knicks match and eat up more of their cap room. That said, New York’s been a hot streak of team-friendly contracts, and being able to offer him a fifth year on the deal should give them a significant edge.

These Knicks have championship aspirations, and multiple ways of getting there. No realistic ones include letting Anunoby walk, injury issues be damned.

Outside parties may feel they can pry a wedge between New York and their impending free agent, but this front office has long proven its competence and strong relationship with its core players. All of New York, and likely Anunoby himself, are already on board with him staying, and the price will be the price.