Super Mario to the Big Apple?
Mario Hezonja became an unrestricted free agent at 12:01 on Sunday morning and apparently wasted little time exploring his options. According to Michael Scotto of The Athletic, Hezonja met with the New York Knicks, whose current general manager Scott Perry was part of the regime in Orlando that drafted Hezonja.
The New York Knicks had a meeting with free agent Mario Hezonja, league sources told The Athletic. https://t.co/7TEqu9kIlU— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) July 1, 2018
Hezonja is an unrestricted free agent because, in October, the Magic declined his fourth-year option, which would have paid him $5.2 million this upcoming season. Hezonja, with increased playing time because of injury, went on to have a more productive season than expected, showing glimpses of the player the Magic expected him to be when they made him the fifth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
The 23-year old averaged a career-best 9.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 22.1 minutes per game last season while shooting 44.2 percent from the field and just 33.7 percent from three.
As Aaron Goldstone said in our Orlando Magic Free Agency Roundtable, the most the Magic can offer Hezonja is the $5.2 million he would have made with eight percent raises each additional year.
Other teams have the ability to not only offer more money, but more playing time, which could be a more beneficial aspect for Hezonja should he sign a short-term deal and get an opportunity to showcase himself in hopes of cashing in at a later date.
The Kings have also reportedly expressed interest in Hezonja...
As free agency opens, there is mutual interest between Mario Hezonja and the Knicks, sources say. Hezonja has multiple suitors and the Knicks are looking to offer short-term contracts to maintain cap space for 2019. Sacramento also has interest in Hezonja.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) July 1, 2018
Sacramento’s interest comes as no surprise considering the ties that link Hezonja and the Kings. Sacramento GM Vlade Divac had his eyes on Hezonja in the 2015 when the Magic selected him one pick before Sacramento. Peja Stojakovic, the Kings director of player personnel and development, as been something of an NBA mentor for Hezonja. And the Magic and Kings reportedly discussed a potential trade for Hezonja last year.
Hezonja, however, at the end of the season expressed a desire to remain in Orlando.
“I want to play with one team [over the course of my career],” Hezonja told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. “That’s my goal since I came here. I really want to make it work [here] 100 percent. So that’s why I say it’s my number-one option. But we’ll see in July what’s going to happen.”
We’ll soon find out.