The New York Knicks came out strong against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers with a 124-123 win ending with a Mario Hezonja block on James.
The New York Knicks’ showdown against the Lakers ended with a huge fourth-quarter run, which is uncharacteristic for the blue and orange this season. The last four minutes, the Knicks outscored the Lakers 13-1 ending with a clutch defensive display by Mario Hezonja. This was his first game back after sitting out the last 12.
If there was a game for Hezonja to return, it was definitely this one, regardless of tanking. The former Orlando Magic forward went 4-for-8 from the field with 17 points, eight rebounds, two steals and the aforementioned game-winning block on James.
Hezonja is signed through this season, before he will become an unrestricted free agent in July. As most fans should know, this is one of the biggest years of free agency for the Knicks in recent history, as they will have enough space for two max contracts, as well as a guaranteed top-five pick at this point in time.
But outside of those max spots, the Knicks will need to think about depth and the soon-to-be free agents they have on their roster now with DeAndre Jordan, Noah Vonleh, Hezonja, and others. Jordan and Vonleh have been relatively consistent this season given their usage, but Hezonja has been one of the more inconsistent players on the roster.
For the former lottery pick, Hezonja will need to show more consistency with the season winding down to even be in discussion for being brought back. I would rather see Vonleh brought back to be the backup power forward, but he’s no guarantee to return and many factors of free agency and the draft could create a logjam at the forward spots.
With all concerns on consistency aside, Hezonja has been one of the younger Knicks to bring about somewhat of a veteran-style presence with his teammates and playing in New York overall. Hezonja has taken the bright lights of the big apple well, and summed this up well after his postgame interview against the Milwaukee Bucks, where he stepped over Giannis Antetokounmpo.
This is the type of attitude that many players have lacked while playing here, which makes Hezonja’s potential and contractual outlook a little more interesting. The other note from this was his response to Enes Kanter before he was traded to the Portland Trailblazers before the deadline, per Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic.
"While the Knicks assembled, Kanter never left his seat. He listened as assistant trainer Anthony Goenaga talked to him, gesticulating, then moved over as Mario Hezonja sat down next to him. Hezonja had not played yet, and would not play, either. He put an arm around Kanter and delivered a message.“Get the f*** up,” Hezonja said. “And cheer.”"
Hezonja fits the mold mentally to grow in New York under David Fizdale and could see more consistency with rotational minutes next season. That said, if the choice is between the aforementioned free agents, and even Kadeem Allen who has been a catalyst on both sides of the floor for the New York Knicks, then it’s time to move on. With 12 games left, the Croatian forward has his work cut out for him if he wants to stay in New York.