Isaiah Hartenstein talks decision to leave Knicks: ‘It was hard’

Isaiah Hartenstein Knicks
May 19, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) reacts during the third quarter of game seven of the second round of the 2024 NBA playoffs against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Hartenstein admitted that it was difficult to leave the New York Knicks, opting to sign a more lucrative deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder at the start of NBA free agency on July 1. 

The 26-year-old developed into an invaluable role player of a Knicks team that has begun knocking on the door of legitimate championship contention. With Mitchell Robinson continuing to battle injuries — this time an ankle that required surgery — Hartenstein blossomed on Broadway, averaging 7.8 points with a career-high 8.3 rebounds per game while shooting 64.4% from the field. 

“It was hard. I was in a situation where I loved my teammates, I loved New York,” Hartesntein said at his introductory press conference in Oklahoma City (h/t SNY). “I really appreciated what [president Leon Rose] and [head coach Tom Thibodeau] did for me. The fans in New York really showed me love.”

But Hartenstein believed his role within Thibodeau’s defensive system was limited. Now with the Thunder, there is the promise of expressing himself more on the offensive side of the ball. 

“If you’re an NBA player, you have to adapt to certain roles,” Hartenstein said. “And that’s what I did in New York. My passing only came out in the last year. My first year, I had to adapt to a certain role. So I feel like I can get back to that shooting aspect. Before, I was shooting, so I want to get back to that even more…

“Going into this situation, I’m really excited. From afar, I always saw how the culture was since they’ve been at OKC. They established a culture, the style of play really fits me.”

Isaiah Hartenstein Knicks
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, the almighty dollar certainly did not hurt Oklahoma City’s free-agent pitch. While the Knicks could have only offered a maximum of four years at $72.2 million, Hartenstein inked a three-year, $87 million pact with a Thunder team that believes it is on the cusp of winning a championship after finishing with the best record in the Western Conference last season. 

His loss means the Knicks are hard-pressed for legitimate center depth behind Robinson, who is recovering from another ankle surgery this summer. Precious Achiuwa is a free agent and could be brought back — he was acquired in the OG Anunoby deal with the Toronto Raptors — but his fit as a true center or more of a power forward remains to be seen.

Jericho Sims and second-round draft pick Ariel Hukporti are the only current big men secured for next season, which understandably leaves much to be desired.

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