Why signing Isaiah Hartenstein was a huge mistake for the OKC Thunder

The big free agency splash signing of Isaiah Hartenstein may land the Thunder a new center, but it could leave fans scratching their heads.
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With the decision by the OKC Thunder to sign Isaiah Hartenstein to a three-year, $87 million contract, the biggest domino in the center market this free agency has fallen.

Coming into the summer, Oklahoma City had the fifth most cap space in the league. Following this move for Hartenstein, the majority of their spending for the summer is over.

Last season with New York, Hartenstein averaged 7.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. While these are certainly solid numbers, it's hard to imagine that justifies over $25 million a season.

Thunder may regret signing Isaiah Hartenstein in 2024 NBA Free Agency

With disastrous rebounding statistics for the Thunder last season, where the team finished 27th overall in total boards pulled down, it was clear they needed to add a big this summer.

Hartenstein’s fit with the team isn’t bad, and at just 26 years old he definitely works for the timeline of this team. One of the biggest centers in free agency this offseason (7-foot-1, 249 pounds), on paper this looks like a stellar get for OKC.

However, reading more into the contract and who else Oklahoma City could’ve brought in, this signing might actually be a massive mistake.

While the free agency market might not have left GM Sam Presti with a ton of options, we know how many draft picks he has and could’ve used in a trade.

One of the other top centers in free agency this offseason was newly signed Washington Wizard big, ​​Jonas Valančiūnas. He brings strength and tenacity to the paint and was signed for a far cheaper price tag (three years, $30 million).

The difference between $10 million per season which Valančiūnas is making and $29 million for Hartenstein is a quality role player or perhaps even two. This contract leaves Oklahoma City with an $8 million mid-level contract available to spend this summer.

There is one redeeming quality about this deal for the Thunder, however.

The contract is frontloaded, meaning while Hartenstein will make far more money during the first two years of the deal, the final year is non-guaranteed.

It was reported by Bobby Marks that Hartenstein’s next contract was rumored to be in the range of about $13-14 million per season. If Presti was okay with shelling out such a massive contract, he could’ve targeted one of the other top options available through trade.

Now with the looming rookie supermax extensions for Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren on the horizon, finances are going to be tight for OKC the next few years.

Huge re-singings on the low for Isaiah Joe and Aaron Wiggins will give the Thunder some cap flexibility, but Hartenstein’s deal limits many other potential additions.

Hartenstein’s contract is only slightly less per year than a center like Deandre Ayton, who could’ve been an absolute unit in the paint alongside Chet Holmgren.

Maybe Sam Presti knows something we don’t -- perhaps there was a bidding war to win Hartenstein’s services that we didn’t see. One thing is for certain and that is the fact that Oklahoma City now has a real starting center within their arsenal.

Hopefully, Holmgren can grow alongside Hartenstein and put on some muscle, and by the end of Hartenstein's deal, he can hold his own at the five.

At the end of the day, OKC got their guy. They needed to make a move for a center and that is exactly what they did.

Now all fans can do is wait and see how far this signing can take the team. Coming off the top seed in the Western Conference and only getting better, the Thunder’s championship window is now.

Was Hartenstein given too much money? Was there a better option for the Thunder? So many questions that will all have to be answered on the court over the next three years.

The jury is still out, but it’s hard to think that this contract isn’t a significant overpay.