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After Isaiah Hartenstein signed his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder (which will pay him $30 million next season and $28.5 million in 2025-26, with a $28.5 million team option in 2026-27) on Saturday, the 26-year-old big man said it was tough to leave the New York Knicks. Hartenstein had the best season of his career in New York, which set him up to sign a more lucrative deal than Leon Rose's front office could have offered.

"If I'm honest, it was hard," Hartenstein told reporters. "I mean, I love my teammates out in New York. I really appreciate what [coach Tom Thibodeau] and Leon did for me. The fans in New York showed a lot of love."

Hartenstein spent most of his first media session in Oklahoma City, though, discussing all the reasons he's happy to be there. From afar, he said, he has been a fan of the Thunder's culture, coach and core players for some time. "The style of play, I think, really fits me," he said, noting that he's one of the league's best passing bigs and "they have a lot of guys who cut." Thunder coach Mark Daigneault's process-oriented approach impressed Hartenstein, and the offense will give him a chance to show off his basketball IQ.

"I felt like I could really expand my game here," Hartenstein said. "Just especially talking to Mark, how open-minded he is. So it's really exciting for me, and then just defensively, I think I can still bring a lot to the team. I mean, I feel like they were really good last year, but then bringing [Alex] Caruso and myself in, I think we hope we'll take another step in that."

Hartenstein plans to keep working on his shot, get even more comfortable with the ball in his hands and continue improving as a defender, he told reporters. He said that he believes he can get "back to the shooting aspect" of his game with the Thunder, just like he reemphasized his previously dormant passing passing during his second season with the Knicks.

Asked about playing with big man Chet Holmgren, who almost exclusively played center last season, Hartenstein said that it would not be easy for opponents to score with "two of the top rim protectors on the court at the same time." Holmgren is "one of most talented bigs in the NBA," he said, "so me and him on the court together, I think it's going to be very deadly, so I'm excited about that."

Hartenstein added, "I'll have to do a little bit more of the dirty work, so he can chill a little bit."

For Oklahoma City, Hartenstein made sense because his skill set addresses its weaknesses without compromising its strengths. The Thunder can still play Holmgren at the 5 and lean into their drive-and-kick game, but, when Hartenstein is on the floor, they can give opponents a different look. They didn't sign him just to protect the rim and rebound; they saw how he could open things up offensively as a handoff hub, a short-roll playmaker and threat to score with floaters and dunks. On Saturday, Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti told reporters that Hartenstein's presence will transform the Thunder from an "unorthodox" team to a "more diverse" one.

"His game doesn't conflict with the development of our core players," Presti said.

Presti told reporters that he can't say exactly what it will look like when Hartenstein and Holmgren share the floor, but "when you have smart players that are all about the team, something good probably will come from that." He said that OKC doesn't make promises about minutes or roles, and that neither Hartenstein nor Caruso have asked "questions about that kind of thing." Playing Holmgren at center will remain "a big part of our formula," Presti said, but they're "not married to one way of doing things." No coach in the league experiments with lineups more than Daigneault.

"Mark is always looking at different things, tinkering with different things," Presti said. "And I'm excited to see kind of how it all comes together. But it will take some time. I think that's one thing that we have to recognize. We'll be incorporating two guys into the team that have previous NBA experience, in addition to some of the guys we got in the draft, and we have to give it a chance to kind of coalesce and figure it out. And there will probably be some bumps in the road, but that's what we have to do in order to get where we want to go."

As the coaching staff tries stuff out and Hartenstein's teammates get used to him, there could be an adjustment period, particularly on offense. Hartenstein is not the kind of player, though, that needs a zillion touches or stops the ball when it finds him. Even if the Thunder look a bit clunky initially, he will try to make the right reads, screen his teammates open and get them extra possessions. 

"He's a connecting player," Presti said. "People want to play with players like that."