WINTER GARDEN, Fla. — The free-agent spending began early Friday morning, and the Knicks are ready to throw big money at Joakim Noah, their top target.
The Knicks are discussing the framework of a four-year, $72-million deal with the 31-year-old Noah, a league source said. They will meet with him Friday afternoon, according to the source, and try to finalize the contract.
Coach Jeff Hornacek said getting a starting center is the Knicks’ priority in free agency, and it’s clear they’ve focused all their attention on Noah. The Knicks traded Robin Lopez last week in the deal that landed Derrick Rose and are looking for a defensive-minded player with some offensive skills.
“We don’t want the guy to be a one-dimensional guy where he just plays defense,” Hornacek said. “Then teams can key on some of our other guys. He’s got to have a little bit of ability to finish under the basket or move around or take mid-range shots. We want that ability. Players don’t like to be considered one-dimensional players. We don’t want that anyway.”
The free-agent negotiating period began at 12:01 a.m., but players can’t be signed and teams can’t announce anything until July 7.
The meeting with Noah will be in Orlando, where Knicks officials are attending the summer league. The Knicks also reached out to shooting guard Courtney Lee’s reps, a source said. They’re trying to set up a meeting Friday with Lee, who has a home in Orlando.
Noah, the son of former tennis star Yannick Noah, is from New York and would reunite with former Bulls teammate Rose if a deal can be reached. At Rose’s introductory news conference last week, he said he wants Noah with him in New York, and he told him that over dinner last Thursday.
Hornacek said the Knicks’ sales pitch for any free agent is that they have a good core with Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Rose, along with “a win-now” mentality.
“I think with the addition of Derrick Rose, and we have Carmelo and Kristaps, it’s an attractive place to come,” Hornacek said. “The biggest thing for guys is some of the main components that we have. I think guys know the scenario they’re coming to, and if they know they’re going to a team that can win, that helps.”
The Knicks should have about $30 million to spend, and Noah might eat up a large chunk of that. It also would effectively eliminate their long-shot odds of getting Kevin Durant. The Knicks have 10 roster spots to fill and have to spread the money around to assemble a playoff-caliber team. A shooting guard and a backup point guard would be next in the pecking order.
Noah is a former Defensive Player of the Year who would be the rim protector and rebounder the Knicks need. He’s also one of the better-passing centers. But the reported terms are high considering Noah’s age and health. He’s missed at least 15 games in six of the past seven seasons and appeared in only 29 last season because of a shoulder issue that ultimately required surgery. He’s averaged 9.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in his career.
“We want to solidify some defense from that spot,” Hornacek said. “Robin was a guy who was very good protecting the basket. We want that, but we want a guy who can kind of do it all. The biggest thing for us is we have a great core to work around and help to get us back to the playoffs. Not just be a guy that’s just going to set picks the whole time, you’re going to be involved a little bit more often than a lot of teams around the league.
“We have the money. We have attractive pieces: those three guys I mentioned before. I feel pretty confident we’re going to get a good player.”
Nicolas Batum and Kent Bazemore are high on the Knicks’ list for wings, but they might be too expensive. Lee is a more reasonably priced alternative and plays both ends of the floor. Other guards on the Knicks’ radar include Evan Turner, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers and Gerald Henderson. Yahoo Sports reported the Knicks will meet with Rivers on Friday.
“We have some holes to fill,” Hornacek said. “Hopefully we can do that.”
Galloway: Qualifying offer. The Knicks gave Langston Galloway a qualifying offer (for roughly $2.7 million), making him a restricted free agent, league sources said. They can match any offers for Galloway, who has averaged 9.1 points and 3.8 assists in 127 games as a Knick. Team president Phil Jackson said last week that he expects to re-sign Galloway.