Biggest need the Knicks still have to fill in the 2024 NBA Free Agency

The Knicks had one of the NBA's best offseasons this summer, signing 2022 All-Defensive First Teamer Mikal Bridges and re-signing wing OG Anunoby, but the loss of center Isaiah Hartenstein leaves a void at the big man position in New York.

The most convenient solution would be to bring back the big substitute Precious Achiuwa, via The athletics Fred Katz.

“Precious Achiuwa remains an unrestricted free agent, and the organization has kept open the possibility of bringing him back, according to a league source,” Katz said. “Achiuwa became a favorite of head coach Tom Thibodeau after he arrived from the Toronto Raptors in December. He may not be the conventional shot blocker Thibodeau prefers in the middle of his defense, but the Knicks could move Achiuwa to the perimeter and use him in more transition strategies than they would with their other big men.”

The Knicks had a solid rotation with Hartenstein, Achiuwa and Mitchell Robinson, but they lacked size with the latter two. Hartenstein is an imposing shooter at 6'10″, but the 6'0″ Achiuwa doesn't have the same length.

“Thibodeau’s ethos is basket protection, but if the team can’t find a 7-foot player to stabilize the defense, he will employ other strategies,” Katz continued. “Both Achiuwa and [Jericho] Sims will venture out of the box to defend.”

Although Sims is 6'10″, the 25-year-old has yet to make a significant impression at the NBA level, averaging 2.6 points and four rebounds per game in three seasons.

If Robinson were to be out, as is often the case, Achiuwa and Sims would form the center rotation, which is anything but ideal.

What other options does New York have?

The Knicks could arrange a trade for a backup big

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Thanks to a series of smart executive moves, the Knicks have the funds and financial flexibility to make a deal. New York has amassed so many draft picks over the past few years that they still have enough left over even after sending five first-round picks and a second-round pick to the Brooklyn Nets for Bridges via Katz.

“If the Knicks want to sign another center, they don't have to immediately blow their remaining draft capital – the Detroit Pistons' 2025 first-round pick (protected by the first 13 picks next year, with protections that could prevent transfer until 2027) and the 2026 and 2030 first-round swaps,” Katz explained. “(They also own a lot of second-round picks, as well as the Washington Wizards' 2025 first-round pick, which is heavily protected and more likely to transfer than two second-round picks after the 2025-26 season.)”

New York signed free-agent guard Shake Milton and forward Mamadi Diakite in the Bridges trade on Thursday to save salary cap space and signed first-round pick Pacome Dadiet at 80% of the rookie scale for 2024-25, saving the club nearly $1 million.

The Knicks can now pay Achiuwa and another free agent of their choice approximately $5 million each.

“If they wanted, they could re-sign Achiuwa, use the taxpayer MLE [mid-level exception] “We need to focus on the remaining free agent who makes the most sense, regardless of position, and see how a 24-year-old, underperforming backup center performs in that role,” Katz explained. “Achiuwa played a lot of the five last season, but can struggle against more brutal players in the box. If things go badly, they could combine Achiuwa and their MLE signing in a deal for an eight-figure salary before the trade deadline in February.”

While Achiuwa is a good temporary option, he would be safer long-term as a power forward than a center. Utah Jazz big man Walker Kessler, however, could be the missing piece of the puzzle. The 7-foot-5 giant averaged 8.1 points on 65.4% shooting, 7.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 23.3 minutes per game last season, which would be more than enough to help New York's second unit next season. Additionally, Kessler is only 22 years old, so he could develop into a top-tier player.

Charlotte Hornets center Nick Richards is another potential transfer candidate. The 7-foot-4 player averaged 9.7 points on 69.1% shooting, eight rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 26.3 minutes per game last season. At 26, Richards is also in peak form, so he could play in Thibodeau's rotation for several years.

While the Knicks now have more than enough wing players to compete with the Boston Celtics' star duo of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, filling the fifth spot is the final step in cementing their status as championship contenders for next season.

Hartenstein, who joined the Oklahoma City Thunder after receiving a larger contract than New York could afford, was a key part of the team's success last season. To at least make the Conference Finals, the team will need to do everything in its power to find a halfway competent replacement.