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Knicks’ most pivotal free-agent move: Find a center

Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls defends

Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls defends against Robin Lopez #8 of the New York Knicks in the first half at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. — Phil Jackson has already made one big offseason acquisition, but the Knicks president’s work this summer has only just begun.

Landing Derrick Rose in a trade with the Bulls addressed the Knicks’ need for a dynamic point guard. They still have many holes, and only five players under contract, so Jackson will be busy when free agency begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Teams can start signing players July 7.

The Knicks’ biggest needs are starting center and shooting guard. But new coach Jeff Hornacek said a big man is the priority after the Knicks sent Robin Lopez to Chicago in the Rose deal.

“They’re both pretty important,” Hornacek said following the Knicks’ summer league practice Wednesday. “I think definitely we need an experienced big in there. We need an experienced [shooting guard] too, but the two-guard spot probably we should be able to find someone. We have enough scorers.

“We need a guy at the two spot who can help to run the offense. Maybe get some kick-out threes. We don’t necessarily need a two-man who can create a bunch of plays because we should have guys who are able to do that. So if you look at it that way, maybe the five-man might be a little bit more important now.”

The Knicks should have between $30 million and $35 million to spend in free agency, and they’ll have to spread it around with all the roster spots they have to fill.

They will try to get a meeting with Kevin Durant, but they’re considered long shots to sign the Oklahoma City All-Star. The list of centers on the market includes Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Hassan Whiteside, Al Horford, Dwight Howard, Timofey Mozgov and Bismack Biyombo.

Hornacek said that he wants the Knicks to be a “top 10” team defensively, and he’s looking for someone to play alongside Kristaps Porzingis to give them “two guys who can cover a lot of ground.”

Rose said in his introductory news conference last week that he wants to play with Noah, his former Bulls teammate, in New York. Noah, 31, is active defensively, a good rebounder and rim protector, which are what the Knicks need from their big man. They appear to be a good fit for each other. But Noah is expected to be wooed by the Wizards and Timberwolves also.

Howard would fit too, but the Knicks have to be smart not to overpay him at this stage of the 30-year-old’s career. Mozgov would be a good option, and a much cheaper one, if the Knicks miss out on Noah.

Gasol played for Jackson with the Lakers, but he’s expected to go to a contender such as the Spurs or Warriors. Whiteside will get big-money offers from the Mavericks and Heat, among others. Horford will be in demand too, and can get the most money from the Hawks, who hope to re-sign him. Bi yombo may return to Toronto.

The Knicks know they need to find a shooting guard who can make teams pay for when they focus their defensive attention on Carmelo Anthony or Rose. As of now, Hornacek might be the best shooter on the team.

“I hope not,” Hornacek said.

Teams are playing smaller now, so having multiple shooters or versatile wing players is critical to success.

Some of the free-agent shooting guards/small forwards include Nicolas Batum, Kent Bazemore, Courtney Lee, Evan Turner, Gerald Henderson Jamal Crawford and Eric Gordon. Their asking prices will vary considerably with Batum possibly getting a max deal to the more affordable Lee and Henderson.

“A lot of teams have money to spend,” Hornacek said. “We have a pretty good amount, it sounds like. Hopefully we can get a player or two that’ll really help us.”

The Knicks could shore up the perimeter/wing by bringing back some of their own free agents. Jackson has said he expects to re-sign Langston Galloway and Lance Thomas. Derrick Williams is another possibility. Cleanthony Early, who is on the summer league team, said he hopes to re-sign with the Knicks.

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