Isaiah Hartenstein was ready to return to Clippers, but making most of Knicks run

LOS ANGELES – Isaiah Hartenstein is trying to make the most of his situation with the New York Knicks, a team that’s surprised most this season due in large part to the addition of Jalen Brunson. Still, it certainly feels like the big man should’ve been a member of the Los Angeles Clippers entering the 2022-23 NBA season.

The Knicks have a 40-30 record through 70 games, with Hartenstein playing a significant part as the backup center for the Knicks. Hartenstein has played in all 70 of the Knicks games so far this season, averaging 5.0 points and 6.5 rebounds on 52 percent shooting in a career-high 19.4 minutes per game.

Hartenstein admitted his role with the Knicks wasn’t exactly what he thought it would be, but he’s adapted to make the most of his time on the court to help the team win.

“It’s been alright,” Isaiah Hartenstein told ClutchPoints in an interview this past weekend. “It’s just more just adjusting to more of a different role, but I think as the year’s going on, it’s been getting better and better. I’m just trying to help the team win and I think I’ve been doing my job in that.

“Maybe it’s a little different than the role I thought, but I think I’ve still been doing a good job of just embracing it and doing whatever the team needs to win. That’s what I’m really about and so I think I’ve been helping in that.”

Hartenstein signed an Exhibit 9 contract with the LA Clippers heading into training camp in September 2021. The battle for the team’s final roster spot came down to him and Harry Giles III, with Giles initially expected to land the spot.

Isaiah Hartenstein went on to be a key contributor to the Clippers second unit, averaging 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. Hartenstein fit so well, the trio of himself, Luke Kennard, and Terance Mann came to be known as the ‘LIT’ crew coming off the bench for Los Angeles.

“I think I just learned through ups and downs, getting adjusted to something different,” Hartenstein said of how he grew with the Clippers. “Just different role, adjusting my game. I think I’ve been doing a good job of doing that. I think, in the long run, it’ll help my career, just being able to adjust to stuff where I was more comfortable doing different stuff. But now I gotta do whatever the team needs to win and I think I’ve been doing a good job of that.”

After his career year with the Clippers, Hartenstein hit unrestricted free agency. The general expectation entering the summer was that the big man would return to the team on a new deal, especially considering the strong mutual interest.

On June 29th, 2022, just a few days before the start of free agency, point guard John Wall secured a contract buyout from the Houston Rockets and hit unrestricted free agency. The team most interested in signing him: The Los Angeles Clippers.

Wall gave back $6.5 million of his $47.3 million remaining on the final year of his deal. That $6.5 million he gave back was roughly the taxpayer mid-level exception that the Clippers had available. What was initially expected to go to Isaiah Hartenstein was expected to go John Wall, leaving Hartenstein out of the picture.

By the time free agency opened up at 6PM EST on June 30th, reports came out that Isaiah Hartenstein and the New York Knicks had agreed to a two-year, $16 million deal. With only the minimum available to offer, that all but confirmed everyone’s suspicions that Wall was headed to Los Angeles. The reported behind-the-scenes push for Wall by the Clippers’ stars only added fuel to the fire.

Hartenstein says he was willing to take the taxpayer mid-level exception, which was less than what the Knicks offered, to stay in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“Yeah, I mean, they gave the only thing they really could’ve offered me to John Wall. I was — I can’t take that big of a pay-cut. I think I was actually gonna come back, but I can’t take that big of a pay cut. So they picked John Wall over me and I got to live with that.

“I mean I was open to taking it, but I think I’m now in a good situation where the fans are great in New York, playing at Madison Square Garden every night is great, and I think I’m a part of what we’ve been doing here in winning.”

Hartenstein was one of those fan-favorite type of role players who developed a bond with Clippers fans in his brief Los Angeles stint. His floater in the lane was automatic, he was good for a few flashy passes a game, and delivered what felt like thunderous, crowd-pumping dunks nightly.

“I love the Clippers fans. I miss them a lot. They were really good to me when I was here. I’m really grateful for Steve Ballmer, Lawrence Frank, Tyronn Lue, all those guys, that gave me a chance to be me and play, play the way I know I can play. I think I’ve shown a lot of what I can do with the Clippers and now it’s just adjusting to a role where maybe its a little less, but it’s still helping a winning team win.”

In an exclusive interview with ClutchPoints during the summer, head coach Tyronn Lue called Hartenstein’s departure a, ‘big loss,’ for the Clippers, but explained that it was also a, ‘big win.’

“It was a big loss, but also a big win,” Tyronn Lue said of Isaiah Hartenstein. “I just think when you get a guy like Hartenstein who bounced around a couple teams, was a minimum player, and then he comes into our team and plays great all year long, gets a chance to make $8 million a year in New York, that’s a win for us as well. It just shows you that we’re able to take guys and bring the best out of their talent and who they are as a player, so I’m very happy for him.”

While his time in Los Angeles was a brimming success, Hartenstein says it’s an absolute experience to be a member of the Knicks and play in the Mecca of basketball.

“It’s amazing,” Isaiah Hartenstein smiled. “I mean, every night, it feels like a playoff game. The fans are great, especially when you’re doing good, but they’re also gonna tell you when you suck. I think that’s good thing, though. I think it keeps you motivated and you know you’ll hear the honest truth from them and so I’ve been liking it. It’s been fun. Every game’s been an experience.”

The Knicks are well on their way towards a playoff berth, and potentially a top four seed in the Eastern Conference this season. Jalen Brunson is easily the most significant reason for the Knicks success this season, but Hartenstein has been a big contributor as well. To put into context how crucial Hartenstein has been to the Knicks, his contract had three incentives totaling $1.05 million, each of which deemed ‘unlikely.’

• Playing 1,350 or more regular-season minutes
• Winning 40 or more games in the 2022-23 regular season
• Reach the first round of the NBA playoffs

With just under a month left in the season, the Knicks have reached 40 wins — incentive number one — and Hartenstein has played 1,359 minutes — incentive number two. There are still a lot of games to be played, but at their current place, the Knicks are going to reach the NBA playoffs with at least a top-six seed.

Here’s Hartenstein’s reaction to cashing in on two incentives totaling $700,000.

Isaiah Hartenstein is well on his way towards his second career appearance in the NBA playoffs, but this will be his first as an actual rotational player. The Knicks are happy to have him, and he’s happy to have found his role despite a slow start to the season.

“I’ve been embracing it. Like, if we’re winning, I don’t really care about whatever I gotta do. I’m just been doing whatever the team needs me to do.”

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