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Enes Kanter may gamble and opt out of his contract

Enes Kanter of the Knicks speaks to the

Enes Kanter of the Knicks speaks to the media at the team's training facility on Thursday. Credit: Errol Anderson

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Enes Kanter loves New York. So much so that he is leaning toward opting out of his contract in hopes of getting a new long-term deal with the Knicks.

“You could say that, yes,” Kanter said Thursday.

It would be a risky and surprising move that could backfire on Kanter for multiple reasons.

He would be opting out of a whopping $18.6 million next season. Kanter might not see that in a new deal from the small amount of teams that have cap space, and he probably won’t from the Knicks. They don’t want to sign anyone to a long-term contract this summer so they have the money to be spenders in 2019.

Kanter said he will talk to his new agent, Mark Bartelstein, and figure out a plan after his exit meeting with Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry.

“I didn’t make any decisions in or out,” Kanter said. “When I say I want to make New York my home, there’s no lie. I want to stay here long term.

“I don’t want to stay here one year and make a decision later. I want to stay here for long term. That’s the decision with my agent. I told everybody I want to retire as a Knick. I understand it’s a business, but I told everybody I want to make New York my home.”

Kanter, who was acquired from Oklahoma City in the Carmelo Anthony trade last September, had the best statistical season of his seven-year career. He averaged a double-double (14.1 points, 11.0 rebounds) for the first time.

He also became a crowd favorite with his passionate play and after repeatedly professing his love for the fans, the city and the Knicks.

Management values that as well as Kanter’s fire, intensity and selfless attitude, but that might not be enough to make Knicks officials alter their plan. They intend to clear cap space for the 2019 free-agent class, which includes Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker and Kevin Love. If Kanter, who will be 26 next month, decides to opt out, the Knicks could just let him walk.

“That’s a decision they need to make,” Kanter said. “I don’t know if they want to keep me here or not, but I think they do. I want to stay here for the long term. I would love to stay here.

“We’re going to talk. I didn’t want to talk to them during the season because it would be a real selfish move. With Scott and Steve, they’re like family. I think it’s going to be an easy process.”

The Knicks could end up losing both their centers. Kyle O’Quinn is expected to opt out of his $4.26-million player option for next season in search of more money after his best year. The only other center on the roster is Joakim Noah, who could be waived Sept. 1 to create more cap room.

Kanter said he has looked at the market and understands that “it’s a pretty rough summer” as far as teams that have money. He wants to stay and play in a big market and in front of celebrities after spending the first six seasons of his career in Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City, so he could reverse course and opt in.

“After you play for New York, you really don’t want to go play anywhere else,” Kanter said. “You saw the city, you saw MSG, all the fans, all the famous people coming to the games and everything.

“I’ve been in the NBA for six years before this year, I don’t remember any famous people coming to my games in Utah or OKC. Sometimes I stopped watching the games; I was watching all these famous people. I was asking my teammates, ‘Who is here? Who is this? Who is this?’ I think it’s really cool.

“I want to stay here for sure. In the end, it’s a business.”

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