ORLANDO, Fla. — Ron Baker played on this very court a year ago, an undrafted guard just trying to make the Knicks who was unsure if he would ever be an NBA player.
Just after the clock struck midnight and free agency began Saturday morning, Baker reached an agreement with the Knicks on a two-year deal.
“I never thought this would happen last year,” a relieved Baker said before the Knicks played their first summer league game Saturday.
“My workout today was very, very good. I made a lot of shots. I think I was a little springy in my step. It was a very exciting moment for me. I’m glad it’s past me. But it’s something a player goes through, free agency. It’s a cool, cool feeling to sign your next deal in this league.”
Baker officially is a part of the Knicks’ future. He went from someone who many expected would spend the year playing for the Knicks’ D-League team in Westchester, to making the big team because of an injury, to becoming a player the Knicks decided they wanted back.
Baker, who averaged 4.1 points and 2.1 assists as a rookie, is the only player with whom the Knicks have reached an agreement to this point.
News of the deal was somewhat anticlimactic. Baker had been hanging around the Knicks during summer league practice and sitting with general manager Steve Mills. The Knicks liked Baker’s toughness and defense and the way he carried himself, and he wanted to be back. He tweeted they reached a deal shortly after midnight.
“I think I’m more excited that it’s done and now I can put my mind to next year,” Baker said. “I obviously know where I’m going to be. Excited to be back with the Knicks. I like the front office, the franchise, coaches, the players that are still there, and hopefully we’ll get some more guys in these next couple of days and make a solid roster.”
Although Baker is 24, he’s played in only 52 NBA games. The Knicks still want to add a veteran point guard. Rajon Rondo, George Hill and Darren Collison are among the guards on their radar. They also could bring back Derrick Rose.
The Knicks have only about $15 million for free agency. They likely would have to clear some more money to sign someone like Hill, who also is being pursued by the Nuggets and Pacers.
Other players the Knicks are targeting include Toronto swingman P.J. Tucker, Oklahoma City swingman Andre Roberson and Suns forward Alan Williams. The Knicks also would like to re-sign Justin Holiday, who reportedly has received interest from the Bulls.
Baker is a spectator for these summer league games. He won’t be able to sign his deal until after summer league ends. But he’s spending time with the team to learn the offense and see what coach Jeff Hornacek is adding and changing.
“I think the flow of the offense is a lot better,” Baker said. “Coaches are trying to put new wrinkles in it so we get more ball movement, make the defense work a little bit. I think part of our problem last year was the ball would get sticky at times and we were taking poor shots. And that kind of made our defense struggle.”
The offense will be different. With Phil Jackson out of the picture, the team won’t be running the triangle as much, if at all. But Baker, who recently threw out a first pitch for a Kansas City Royals game, was sorry to see Jackson go.
“I really enjoyed Phil Jackson,” Baker said. “He taught me a lot this past year. He wasn’t only a mentor of mine, but he’s a really good friend. A couple of weeks ago, we were playing catch in the trainer’s room before my first pitch. I wish Phil the best. I’m going to miss him. That’s just kind of how the business goes sometimes.”
Baker said he heard from the Knicks’ Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah. He hopes they can meet up soon “and celebrate a little bit.” Carmelo Anthony hadn’t reached out, but Baker said that when he returns to New York, he will try to work out with Anthony.
Baker also looks forward to working with first-round pick Frank Ntilikina and helping the 18-year-old guard in any way possible.
“He’s obviously a talent,” Baker said. “I can’t wait to work with him next year. It’s always nice to have a kid that’s six years younger than you to play with. So hopefully we can share some stories about my college days and I guess his high school professional days, and just get to know each other and have a good year.”
RON BAKER FILE
BornMarch 30, 1993, in Hays, Kansas (age 24)
Vitals: 6-4, 220 pounds
College: Wichita State
2016-17 Knicks stats
52 Games, 4.2 ppg, 2.1 apg, .378 FG pct., .651 FT pct.