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Thunder Have ‘Real’ Interest in Signing Unique Shot-Blocker

Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s presumed interest in signing impending free agent Isaiah Hartenstein is “real,” per the New York Post’s Stefan Bondy. Indeed, the Thunder could offer the jumbo-sized journeyman “a short-term deal (such as two years) with a high salary, providing both sides with long-term flexibility.”

Notably, the Knicks can only sign Hartenstein for up to 175 percent of his 2023-24 salary this offseason, as they have his Early Bird Rights rather than his full Bird Rights. As he earned $9.3 million in 2023-24, that means New York can pay him a maximum of $16.2 million annually. That’s all well and good, as it’s a fair number for his on-court value. However, the Thunder are projected to have $35.3 million in projected capital max space this summer.

As a result, they can make a more substantial contract offer than the Knicks.

Thunder Have ‘Real’ Interest in Signing Isaiah Hartenstein

Money alone may not guarantee that Hartenstein leaves New York. Since his arrival, he’s taken to the city, his teammates, and Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. With New York’s famed franchise returning to their competitive ways, he has even more of a reason to stay.

However, the Thunder have built a winning culture under 2024 Coach of the Year, Mark Daigneault. The camaraderie demonstrated by their young core is endearing, and on par with that of a Knicks core with three former college teammates. Furthermore, Oklahoma City has transformed into a playoff contender themselves. Like New York, they have an MVP-caliber guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Last but not least, they can guarantee him what the Knicks can’t: a more prominent role.

The Heart of the Dilemma

With the Thunder, Hartenstein can be a full-time starter.

Though Chet Holmgren started in 2023-24, it’s clear he’s not a true center. He’s a skilled shot-blocker at 7-foot-1 and is a constant lob-threat. Yet, he’s 208 pounds and takes 40.1 percent of his field goal attempts at least 16 feet away from the rim. His 15.0 percent rebounding rate underscores his lack of size and strength. Ultimately, he’s a hybrid big man who would benefit by playing power forward, letting another player bang around down low.

At 7-foot-0 and 250 pounds, Hartenstein can be that player. He’s far more likely to get his points in the paint than Holmgren, though he can shoot out to the 3. More importantly, he’s a reliable interior defender and dogged rebounder. In 2023-24, he had a rebounding rate of 18.5 percent, just slightly below Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis’s 19.8 percent rebounding rate.

With the Knicks, he’ll likely only start at center is if Mitchell Robinson is sidelined, like he was throughout most of 2023-24. New York’s defensive anchor, Robinson has started in 181 of the 210 games he’s played since 2020-21, playoffs included. Though he’s not quite as adept as Hartenstein in terms of his perimeter defense, he’s a much more impactful shot-blocker. With Jalen Brunson unlikely to put ball-handlers in jail anytime soon, his backline defense is a safety net.


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