New York Knicks, Willy Hernangomez
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The New York Knicks wasted an opportunity for Willy Hernangomez to be the franchise’s center of the future.

Willy Hernangomez was viewed as the New York Knicks’ center of the future. Wednesday afternoon, the Knicks agreed to a deal sending the center to the Charlotte Hornets. And in doing so, they officially wasted what was a great opportunity in Hernangomez potentially being their center of the future.

Earlier this week, news broke that Hernangomez asked the Knicks for a trade based on the limited playing time head coach Jeff Hornacek had been granting him.

Averaging nine minutes a night in just 26 games, he’s been unable to play with any consistency. Averaging 4.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, he’s been an underwhelming product in the minutes he’s been given. At the same time, isn’t his inconsistent and unoriginal play because of Hornacek as well as the tag team of president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry?

Hernangomez was on Hornacek’s bad side all year long. Ever since they acquired Enes Kanter in the deal that shipped Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Hernangomez fell to third on the Knicks’ depth chart at center behind Kyle O’Quinn and Kanter. And he hasn’t been given the chance to play his way into a prominent role.

As soon as the Knicks acquired Kanter and the logjam at center presented itself, many figured there would be an ensuing move. With a plethora of centers in place (Kanter, O’Quinn, Hernangomez and Joakim Noah), it would’ve made sense to make a trade to open up minutes, allowing Hernangomez to man a significant role.

Hernangomez can post-up, has the potential to be a walking double-double, and is under contract through the 2019-20 season at less than $2 million per year. Trading him doesn’t make sense for the Knicks based on them being in a rebuild and the center being just 23-year-old. And what they got back for him only makes their handling of the situation look worse.

Acquiring two second-round picks (one in 2020, the other in 2021), the Knicks are banking on finding a diamond in the rough in the backend of the draft in the years to come — which is risky. Plus, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, forward Johnny O’Bryant — who the Knicks also acquired for Hernangomez — is going to be waived.

Last season, Hernangomez was underwhelming defensively yes, but he was a bright spot in a dark year for the Knicks. Averaging 8.2 points and seven rebounds per game in just 18.4 minutes a night, he showcased an ability to play in the post and hit the boards. Had he been rewarded more playing time on a team where minutes were for the taking, Hernangomez could’ve furthered his game this season. Or if their sights were set on trading him, the Knicks could’ve received a sweeter package for Hernangomez had he been playing a reasonable amount of minutes.

Based on the lack of opportunity Hornacek created for him, it’s hard to criticize Hernangomez for wanting out. Hornacek has been unexplainably stubborn with his rotation. Whether it be granting Hernangomez and Noah with little-to-no playing-time or not altering his point guard rotation, he’s been hard to sway in a different direction.

Hernangomez (23) was part of a young and intriguing Knicks’ core going into training camp alongside Kristaps Porzingis (22), rookie Frank Ntilikina (19) and Tim Hardaway Jr (25). The duo of Porzingis and Hernangomez, in particular, was viewed as the team’s most positive feature going forward. They went against the small ball trend and complemented each other well on the offensive end.

Another important factor in the Hernangomez dilemma is Hornacek. With the head coach granting the center little to no playing time, it’s blatantly obvious that Hornacek is not a fan of Hernangomez. With management trading him, it may be an indicator that the Knicks are siding with Hornacek and sticking with him as the team’s head coach — despite likely missing the playoffs in back-to-back years under his leadership.

Hernangomez may not be the next DeMarcus Cousins or Karl-Anthony Towns, but the Knicks ruined the opportunity for the big man to be their franchise center; patience and opportunity were never valued in this process.

Robbie Stratakos is a New York Knicks/Giants Beat Writer for Elite Sports NY (ESNY); he also covers the NBA nationally. He previously wrote at Last Word On Pro Basketball and Empire Writes Back. In addition to writing for ESNY, Robbie is an MLB columnist at Baseball Essential. He previously wrote at HardBallScoop - part of Scout/CBS Interactive/247Sports, Last Word On Baseball and District On Deck. He is attending Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. Follow him on twitter @RPStratakos