ORLANDO, Fla. — The trade and free-agent markets have helped Knicks president Phil Jackson assemble a strong starting five. Now he will have to get lucky and creative to add depth and put together a bench.
Coach Jeff Hornacek doesn’t seem overly concerned about it. He thinks the Knicks will be able to add players who can help them, even at minimum salaries. But he also said he hopes to always have two of the Knicks’ three top scorers — Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and Kristaps Porzingis — in the game.
“Hopefully the way our roster is shaping up, with those three guys, that we always have two of those guys on the court,” Hornacek said Sunday. “It will take the pressure off of bench guys to make an open shot. You’re not going to be a real focus necessarily. So that always makes it easier for these guys to feel comfortable out there. If you’re trying to sub five guys in and have five bench guys as a group, it’ll probably be more difficult.”
Hornacek still can’t talk about the Knicks’ free-agent additions until the NBA moratorium is lifted Thursday. But when he described the kind of players the Knicks want at center and shooting guard, they resembled Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee.
The Knicks reached agreements with Noah on Friday and Lee on Saturday for a combined $120 million over four years. When asked about the shooting guard position, Hornacek said he wanted someone who can “knock down shots, create the space for the star guys, and you’re always looking for guys that can play defense, too.”
The Knicks have seven players under contract and about $3 million in cap room. Their immediate need is a backup point guard.
Among the players available are Greivis Vasquez, Jarrett Jack, Ramon Sessions and Tim Frazier. Randy Foye is a possibility, but he’s more of a shooting guard. The Knicks are seeking an experienced point guard who can start, given Rose’s injury history the last several years.
“That’s one of the toughest positions to fill in the NBA,” Hornacek said. “There’s a lot of backups, but you’re always looking for, ‘Can that backup step right into the starter’s role if something happens to your starter?’ There’s not many of those guys out there that can do that. We got our eyes on a couple that can do that. That’s what we’ll probably aim for.”
The Knicks’ space could grow by $5 million to $10 million if they renounce the rights to some of their free agents. They also could create more room by trading a player (Kyle O’Quinn) to a team that could absorb the contract. Beyond that, the Knicks have the $2.898-million room exception.
They remain hopeful that they can re-sign Langston Galloway and Lance Thomas and plan to sign last year’s second-round pick, Willy Hernangomez. They also have some players on the summer league team — which lost to Miami, 74-48, on Sunday — who could be on the Knicks in the fall.
Cleanthony Early could return on a minimum contract. Rookie free agent shooting guard Ron Baker, who is 4-for-18 in two games, has received a training camp invite and rookie center Marshall Plumlee also could have a chance to make the team.
“We want to see what these guys can do, if any of these guys can fit a role on our roster,” Hornacek said. “I’m looking at how he’s playing and how to envision him with our guys. You never know with free agency. When you get to the end of the time, there may be veterans willing to take the minimum. We’ll take a look at everything.”
Hornacek met Porzingis face-to-face for the first time Saturday and had dinner with him. Hornacek worked out Porzingis on Sunday and came away very impressed.
“I knew he was a decent shooter,” he said. “But he’s a really good shooter. You know looking at him in the gym, his stroke, how easy he does it; then his ability things that the guys are working on him with his drives to the basket, his post-up game — he’s going to be a great player.”