This underrated offseason move would make the Thunder a true contender

Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder / Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The off season 'makes or breaks' many teams, with several vaulting into 'contender' status while other teams are quickly recognized as just 'good teams'. Each of those 'good' teams has a particular missing piece they must identify to transform into a contending team. The Oklahoma City Thunder got one step closer to being a contender when they traded Josh Giddey for Alex Caruso, a move that enhanced their defense and style of play. However, the Thunder aren't done improving their title odds.

Oklahoma City is projecting over $33 million in cap space but could have up to $42 million in cap space. With nearly enough money for a max salary on their roster, the Thunder could put themselves in a class of their own in a loaded Western Conference. Few things are more beneficial than the flexibility the Thunder currently have, with one of the best General Managers (Sam Presti) in the NBA. Will Oklahoma City choose 'star-hunting', or a roster with the necessary depth to win in the playoffs?

Rumors have linked Oklahoma City to several front court options this off season, potentially moving Chet Holmgren to the forward position, arguably his more natural position in the NBA. With several targets in mind, the Thunder could look to upgrade their overall size, defense, rebounding, and length. The Thunder would increase their team versatility and defensive flexibility by doing this. Many viewed the Thunder as a 'pretender' this season, but a front court upgrade could vault them into a contender.

Isaiah Hartenstein is Oklahoma City's 'one missing piece'

One of those targets for Oklahoma City is Isaiah Hartenstein, who appears to be leaving New York. The Knicks seized an opportunity to improve their roster by aggressively acquiring Mikal Bridges. Just one day after the Bridges trade, the Knicks negotiated a contract extension with OG Anunoby for five years and over $212 million. With the Knicks' ability to retain Hartenstein still in question, it's a very real possibility he's wearing a new uniform next season. Hartenstein's market continues to grow.

Not only are teams trying to pry away the veteran big man from the Knicks, but they're willing to pay a massive price for his services. In 75 games this season, Hartenstein had a career-best season. He averaged eight points, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block per game. Additionally, Hartenstein's efficiency was off the charts, shooting 64 percent, 33 percent from three, and 70 percent from the free throw line in 25 minutes per game.

With over 49 starts this season after Mitchell Robinson's mid-season injury, Hartenstein proved he can be a capable rotation piece for any contending team as a starter or non-starter. Over his last three seasons (the last two with New York), Hartenstein has played 68 games, 82 games, and 75 games with 57 games played as a starter. His leadership and ability to be a defensive anchor helped the Knicks reach 50 wins this season, clinching the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

Hartenstein proved that he is worth a big payday

Hartenstein's play improved in the postseason, with more minutes on the floor. He even posted a triple-double in the postseason, averaging nine points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Additionally, Hartenstein averaged three offensive rebounds per game, upping that number to four per game in the postseason across 30 minutes per game (13 games). Hartenstein would have a similar role with the Thunder, aiding Chet Holmgren in the frontcourt and instantly helping their team's defense.

Hartenstein's rim pressure on both ends of the floor would allow Holmgren to become more of a floor spacer for the Thunder, a role they desire throughout their roster. Defensively, Holmgren can become a 'roamer', similar to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Anthony Davis as forwards, and Rudy Gobert against Denver (with Karl-Anthony Towns defending Nikola Jokic on-ball). Holmgren's length and athleticism would become a problem on the perimeter, while still providing rim protection.

Hartenstein is a terrific rim finisher, a tenacious rebounder on both ends of the floor, and a willing passer. With a serious, but vibrant, locker room personality, the Thunder would add another key veteran to their nucleus of young players. First, it was Alex Caruso, but Isaiah Hartenstein could become the second addition for a Thunder team that sees a championship soon.

Oklahoma City appears poised to win now, and after adding an All-Defensive caliber in Alex Caruso, Oklahoma is looking for extra firepower to get them over the top and remain atop the Western Conference. Adding a perimeter menace in Alex Caruso was a great start to the off season, but Isaiah Hartenstein would address a major need in the paint for a Thunder team lacking size. Ultimately, adding 'dogs' like Alex Caruso and Isaiah Hartenstein should provide the lighting the Thunder needs.