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Knicks offseason priorities: Extending Brunson, retaining Thibodeau, Hartenstein top summertime to-do list

Kristian Winfield, New York Daily News on

Published in Basketball

With the 2024 NBA Finals nearing their close, and the Boston Celtics expected to hang championship banner No. 18, what is expected to be a frenetic and active New York Knicks offseason will shortly be underway.

The Knicks have a number of priorities as they look to build on their second consecutive second-round playoff appearance:

Trade one or both 2024 first-round draft picks

The Knicks are in championship contention mode, which means rookies are unlikely to crack a rotation laden with deep, veteran talent, especially under head coach Tom Thibodeau.

The Knicks own picks Nos. 24 and 25 in the June 26 NBA Draft, and those picks are more valuable in trade discussions as actual picks than they are as freshly drafted players.

However, the front office has also been adept at identifying talent late in drafts: Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes were 25th-overall picks in their respective draft classes, and Miles McBride and Jericho Sims were both second-round finds.

It’s difficult to fathom the Knicks using both first-round picks to bolster the roster, which makes it more likely the team trades at least one. It’s never a bad idea, however, to keep a pick in case a player the team likes falls down the draft order.

Lock in Jalen Brunson

Brunson will become eligible this summer to sign a four-year contract extension in New York that will bring the overall value of his deal to a total of five years worth $186 million. But with another year left on his deal before the ability to test free agency, Brunson can also bet on himself, play an additional season in New York, then sign a more lucrative five-year deal worth $270 million next summer.

Brunson became a first-time All-Star and earned Second Team All-NBA honors with the Knicks last season. If he is willing to take less money to lock in financial stability this summer, the Knicks will lock in the deal and have the head of their snake in place for the next five seasons.

Re-sign head coach Tom Thibodeau

Thibodeau finished fifth in NBA Coach of the Year voting behind Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault, Orlando’s Jamahl Mosley, Minnesota’s Chris Finch and Boston’s Joe Mazzulla, but there’s a strong case to be made Thibodeau deserved top-three standing in the award race given the injuries ravaging Madison Square Garden last season.

Missing Julius Randle the entire second half of the season, Mitchell Robinson a large portion of the regular season and the entire second round of the playoffs, and OG Anunoby both for regular-season and playoff stretches, the Knicks still secured the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed and pushed the Indiana Pacers to Game 7 in Round 2 before running out of gas in the elimination match.

Maintaining the culture should be top priority in New York, and Thibodeau is a culture driver whose results speak for themselves. Entering the final year of his contract, keeping Thibs in orange and blue should be a no-brainer.

Re-sign OG Anunoby

The Knicks did not trade RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and the 31st pick in the upcoming NBA Draft for a half-season rental.

Yet it’s the situation the Knicks find themselves in: All indications point to OG Anunoby declining the $19.9 million player option on the final year of his deal and seeking a pay raise as a free agent.

The Knicks need to ensure Anunoby gets that raise at Madison Square Garden, as there will be no shortage of suitors interested in poaching the three-and-D wing’s services from New York.

The Knicks went 12-2 in Anunoby’s first 14 games after the trade, finished the regular season 20-3 in games he did not miss due to his elbow injury, then went 6-2 through the first eight games of the playoffs before Anunoby severely injured his hamstring in Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers.

Injuries may be a concern, but there is no questioning his impact, and Anunoby’s impact propelled the Knicks into dark horse contender status in the second half of the season.

Figure out the center position

Mitchell Robinson’s ankle can’t be trusted, and Isaiah Hartenstein may leave New York for a bigger pay day elsewhere. And if he doesn’t, the Knicks will be paying two centers significant money.

One of the toughest decisions the front office must make is choosing a path forward at the five.

Robinson underwent two procedures to repair a stress fracture in his left ankle last season alone, an unfortunate and unceremonious end to a dominant start to the regular season where he manhandled the offensive glass before turning his foot in a Dec. 8 matchup against the Boston Celtics. He has appeared in fewer than 60 games in three of the last four seasons and has appeared in just 31 games twice during this stretch.

 

The Knicks had an injury insurance policy in the form of Hartenstein, who thrived in the starting center role with Robinson out, then retained the starting spot when Robinson returned from injury.

The Knicks own Hartenstein’s Early Bird rights, which means they can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him to a deal worth a 70 percent raise on his previous salary, or a four-year, $72.5 million deal. Hartenstein, however, may have played himself into a competing offer elsewhere the likes of which the Knicks cannot match.

If Hartenstein is willing to take less money to stay in New York, do the Knicks keep Robinson despite his checkered injury history? The team believes the combination of Robinson and Hartenstein is one of, if not outright the best one-two punch at the center spot in all of basketball.

The Knicks, however, are also notably going star hunting, and Robinson, who is due $27 million over the next two seasons, could be included in a deal if the right player becomes available.

Make a decision on Julius Randle

Like Brunson, Randle has another year left on his contract but becomes eligible for a contract extension this summer.

Unlike Brunson, the general consensus is that Randle is not untouchable, that the Knicks would be willing to part ways with the three-time All-Star if a better-fitting star became available on the market.

The issue is Randle dislocated his shoulder on Jan. 27, an injury that ended his season after solid returns following the Dec. 30 Anunoby deal. Randle was not a black hole with the basketball, as had been his reputation in seasons past, after Anunoby’s arrival.

Last season, he averaged 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists prior to his injury. The only players to average at least that stat line either already won Most Valuable Player of the Year in the past (Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo) or will win it in the future: Dallas’ Luka Doncic.

The question mark remains his ability to carry this impact into the playoffs. Randle struggled mightily in his first playoff run in 2021, played injured through two rounds in 2023, then missed last season’s run altogether due to his dislocated shoulder.

Improve the roster

Here’s what’s going to happen this summer and next season:

— The 76ers are going to add another piece around the duo of Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey

— The Milwaukee Bucks will likely be back, this time with a healthy Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard

— The Atlanta Hawks somehow landed the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft and could take a massive leap up the standings

— The Orlando Magic are one piece away from becoming a legitimate team in the playoff conversation

— The Pacers just made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and will try to find a way to add to the duo of Tyrese Haliburton and Pascal Siakam

— And the Miami Heat will find a way to get better, because they somehow always find a way to stay in the championship conversation

The Knicks need more wings who can shoot the three and defend multiple positions. They could use another backup guard behind Brunson and McBride. They could use a stretch-five, too.

Or they could use a world-beating superstar should one become available.

One thing is for certain: This front office is going to do what it takes to improve the roster and put New York in position to hang its first banner since 1973.

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©2024 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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