The Knicks' OG Anunoby goes up to shoot against the...

The Knicks' OG Anunoby goes up to shoot against the 76ers' Joel Embiid during the second half of Game 6 in an NBA first-round playoff series on May 2 in Philadelphia. Credit: AP/Matt Slocum

For the last month, since their season came to an end in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Knicks have been the subject of much conjecture about what the next steps would be after two straight seasons stalled at the same spot. Now the wondering is about to end as the well-hidden front office must make those decisions.

OG Anunoby opted out of the remaining year of his contract on Monday, making him an unrestricted free agent. That officially started the process of negotiations between the Knicks and Anunoby, triggering decisions that will filter up and down the roster.

Isaiah Hartenstein is an unrestricted free agent. Precious Achiuwa is a restricted free agent. Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle will be eligible for contract extensions later this summer.

And more immediately, the Knicks are on the clock for the NBA Draft, with two first-round picks (Nos. 24 and 25) on Wednesday and a second-round pick at No. 38 Thursday.

What all this means: This summer might be decision time for the Knicks about whether to finally pull the trigger on their long-held star search or to move forward with their current roster, running it back and adding pieces around the edges through the draft or minor moves.

“I love the group,” coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked if he wants to run it back. “As a coach, you couldn’t ask for a better group.”

When the Knicks traded for Anunoby, sending out RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, there was little doubt that the move was a long-term play, not a five-month rental. Dealing away young cornerstones of the franchise for a player represented by CAA — with one of his agents being Sam Rose, son of Knicks president Leon Rose — made the future contract seem like a fait accompli. But the last month has featured rumors of a team with salary-cap space such as the Philadelphia 76ers making a play for Anunoby — either stealing him away or prodding the Knicks to pay more and thus tying up their salary cap.

A league source indicated that no immediate announcement was expected, but by the time Anunoby can sign a new deal — on Sunday — it’s hard to imagine it won’t get done. The Knicks really have little choice but to pay whatever the price is. They played their best ball since the championship seasons more than 50 years ago when Anunoby was on the floor, going 26-6.

He is eligible for a contract from the Knicks as large as five years and $245 million, but if the number rises beyond the expected range of four years and $140 million, that could factor into the numbers the team will have to consider for extensions for Brunson and Randle.

Hartenstein, who took over the starting center role with Mitchell Robinson injured for much of the season, is eligible for a four-year, $72.5 million contract. It’s a fair number for an important roster piece and one the Knicks certainly will pay. But this deal, like Anunoby’s, can have a trickle-down effect.

The Knicks, who have managed to operate below the luxury tax since Rose took over as team president, are expected to be in the first apron above the luxury tax ($178.7 million). They hope to avoid pushing into the second apron ($189.5 million).

To avoid the constraints of pushing into the second apron of the luxury tax, the Knicks might have to move contracts. Robinson’s very reasonable $15 million-per-year contract is attractive, although tempered by his injury history, and they could opt to not pick up Bojan Bogdan-ovic’s $19 million team option.  

Health check

The Knicks have added Casey Smith as a vice president of sports medicine. Smith worked for the last two decades as head athletic trainer (and director of player health and performance the last five years) for the Dallas Mavericks and also has served as trainer for the United States men’s national team in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.  

Not playing favorites

Jay Wright, who coached Brunson, Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo at Villanova, appeared on Brunson’s and Hart’s podcast, “The Roommates Show,” and explained why he didn’t attend any of the games when the Knicks beat the 76ers in the first round of the playoffs.

After Brunson joked that Wright was afraid to show up and root against his hometown of Philadelphia, Wright explained that even with the three former players on the Knicks, he had allegiances on the other side, too, with Kyle Lowry playing for the 76ers and two Villanova connections serving as assistant coaches.

Wright added that he was just happy that it ended peacefully.

“I was so afraid that Josh and Kyle were going to get into it,” Wright said. “I was so afraid. It’s like watching your kids play, about to get into a fight in the backyard. I was watching after the game, like, do those two hug? After the end of the series, please let those two hug. You guys were going at it.”


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