The New York Knicks looked formidable after a mid-season trade that added OG Anunoby to an already talented roster. Injuries kept them from fulfilling their full potential, but they look like 2025 NBA Championship contenders, if they bring everyone back.

But that's a big “if”. There are two key guys who can sign elsewhere without the Knicks matching offers, and they are both uniquely important to the Knicks' success — Anunoby and Isaiah Hartenstein. We covered how the Knicks can pivot if Hartenstein signs with another team. So, let’s explore what the Knicks could do to mitigate the potential loss of Anunoby.

The Knicks went 20-3 with Anunoby in the regular season and 6-3 with him in the playoffs. He was an obvious impetus for good outcomes, as he accumulated an astonishing +353 in 23 regular season games with the Knicks. The former Indiana Hoosier is a lock-down defender who showed flashes of a Kawhi Leonard-like offensive game in the 2024 playoffs.

Anunoby can defend virtually every position on the floor. And he doesn’t need the ball to impact the game. Who doesn’t want a guy like that?

Negotiations between New York and Anunoby off to a rough start

But like the infamous Wu-Tang Clan song says, cash rules everything around me. Unfortunately, the Knicks first contract offer to Anunoby was unimpressive. He will probably enter unrestricted free agency shortly, and the Knicks would obviously prefer to avoid a bidding war.

Fortunately, Anunoby is represented by CAA, the agency previously overseen by Knicks’ executive Leon Rose. So, the Knicks are probably still in the driver’s seat regarding re-signing Anunoby given that connection.

Still, it’s possible Anunoby bolts. Objectively, it doesn’t make sense for the Knicks to play hard ball in negotiating with him. The Knicks cannot repurpose the money they would spend to re-sign Anunoby, as that would put them over the salary cap. But because New York owns Anunoby's Full Bird Rights, they can offer him more than anyone else.

Pascal Siakam’s contract extension with the Indiana Pacers is probably a realistic starting point for negotiations (four-year/$189.5 million). Siakam is three-and-a-half years older than Anunoby, but he is far more resilient, as he’s missed considerably fewer games due to injury.

If, by some series of unfortunate events, the Knicks and Anunoby are unable to come to an agreement, what are they to do? They would have shipped out two major building blocks (RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley) and have nothing to show for it.

But it's not that simple. They can still maneuver and potentially replace the one-time All-Defensive player.

Move #1: Sign-and-Trade Anunoby

LA Clippers forward Paul George (13) drives to the basket against the Dallas Mavericks during the first quarter during game six of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Center.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

While the sign-and-trade maneuver has been marginalized by changes to the CBA, they do still take place. Still, if there is another player interested in changing teams, the idea of a sign-and-trade could be mutually beneficial. Enter Paul George. 

If Anunoby is really that miffed by the Knicks initial offer and/or if the two sides simply can’t agree on terms, New York could pivot to a sign-and-trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. Los Angeles is far more likely to pay Anunoby than George, given Anunoby's relative youth.

For the Knicks, George is a great plug-and-play guy who can fit alongside virtually any supporting cast. He would instantly improve the Knicks offense. And while he’s not the defender that Anunoby is, he’s still an above-average defender despite his advanced age (34).

Sure, New York would have to pay the older George just as much  annually (if not more),  but it would likely be on a shorter deal (think two years for George vs. four or five for Anunoby). That makes the idea of George all the more appealing. While George has also struggled with injuries in recent seasons, he did just play in 74 games last season, instilling confidence in his resiliency.

For this deal to work, Anunoby would have to be interested in a move to Los Angeles. However, this type of a deal could also work with a third team of Anunoby’s choosing. But that would likely cost New York additional assets.

Move #2: Draft an OG Anunoby clone (Ryan Dunn, Virginia)

Disclaimer: No rookie will match the impact of Anunoby. But they can chip away at some of the lost produciton. And Ryan Dunn looks like he has the chops to do so, at least defensively.

Dunn is widely viewed as the best defender in the 2024 draft class. Subsequently, he is seen as a quintessential Tom Thibodeau guy, which isn’t a bad thing for a rookie hoping to crack the rotation of a coach who has historically shied away from playing youngsters.

Specifically, Dunn is six-foot-eight with a seven-foot-one wingspan, meaning he can guard most positions on the floor. He is also a very good rebounder, which could further the Knicks’ dominance of the glass. His shot definitely needs some work, but New York wouldn’t demand much of Dunn by way of offense.

As mentioned above, no rookie will ever play with the efficiency and poise of a star-level veteran. But Dunn appears to be about as NBA-ready as anyone the Knicks will be able to draft. And grabbing a young Anunoby clone can’t hurt, even if Anunoby re-signs.

Move #3: Explore signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Caleb Martin, or Kelly Oubre

Any of the three players mentioned above can help fill the void left by an Anunoby departure. Granted, none are anywhere near as good as Anunoby, but they all do similar things.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a three-and-D threat. He shot 41.5% on three-pointers over the past two seasons with the Denver Nuggets and has been one of his team’s best wing defenders. The 31-year-old could be relatively expensive, but the Knicks shouldn’t be looking into a long-term deal.

If the mid-level exception (MLE) isn’t enough to nab Caldwell-Pope, they can turn their attention to Caleb Martin or Kelly Oubre. Martin is more of a jack-of-all trades type of player, whereas Oubre has less offensive versatility. Oubre’s impact in Philadelphia is questionable (given that the 76ers were better when he was off the floor), but he probably impressed some people in the Knicks’ front office with his defense on Jalen Brunson in the 2024 playoffs. Conversely, Martin will probably receive a good amount of interest from a number of contenders; however, the real question will be how much are teams willing to offer for his services.

To be clear, no combination of these moves makes up for losing Anunoby. The goal is to re-sign him and see if the Knicks can maintain the success we saw in January. But if he prefers a different team and/or role, New York can avoid suffering a major setback by following the suggestions listed above. But here's to hoping we don't have to.