ORLANDO, Fla. — The Knicks’ sales pitch to free agents will be far different from last year, when they sold the opportunity to play with Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and Kristaps Porzingis.
They’re a team in flux, with no president, no point guard and Anthony’s future with the Knicks up in the air.
Coach Jeff Hornacek doesn’t view it that way, though. “I don’t know how we’re in flux,” he said Friday, about 12 hours before free agency was set to kick off. “Can we promise we’re going to win an NBA championship next year? Guys know we’re in the growing stages right here. Guys when they come in and take the meeting, they know that.”
The Knicks will be selling hope and patience — but not with much money, barring some unforeseen transactions.
Last season it was about building a team they thought could compete for a playoff spot and be a tough out in the playoffs. They brought in Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings in free agency. Then they went 31-51.
This time the Knicks will be hyping the young players, namely Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez. They just drafted 18-year-old French guard Frank Ntilikina, and they won’t be pushing the triangle after Phil Jackson parted ways with the organization Wednesday.
General manager Steve Mills and Hornacek can talk to free agents about playing a faster and more open offense. Hornacek hopes to meet players. When he was asked what he would sell to free agents, he did not mention Anthony, who could be an ex-Knick before the season starts.
“I’m sure they know that too,” Hornacek said. “Guys when they go on visits, they know what’s going on and they know the situation at hand, and I’m sure they’ll try to ask those questions and we’ll try to feel a guy out. If a guy says one way or another, I don’t know if that affects management’s decision to continue pursuing a guy or not. That’s on them.”
The Knicks could have between $12 million and $16 million to spend in free agency, depending on what moves they make.
They waived forward Maurice Ndour on Friday before his $1.3-million salary became fully guaranteed. The Knicks also could waive center Marshall Plumlee to get rid of his salary or trade players for picks or players with non-guaranteed deals.
The Knicks’ need for a point guard is clear, but their available money likely won’t be enough to snag Kyle Lowry or Jrue Holiday. Jeff Teague is off the board after coming to terms with Minnesota.
George Hill, Rajon Rondo (who was waived by the Bulls on Friday) and Michael Carter-Williams are possibilities. They also could re-sign Derrick Rose.
The Knicks also need wing defenders and are expected to reach out to P.J. Tucker, who played for Hornacek in Phoenix, and Oklahoma City restricted free agent Andre Roberson.
“Whenever you go to a new team, you’re going to learn a new offense,” Hornacek said. “We’ll just talk about the situation, our young players, guys we have on our team, sell how we’re going to step up defensively, offensively be a little more open. There’s a lot of things. When you talk to a guy, see what they’re looking for besides the money part of it. It’s got to feel good for them.”
Hornacek included Ron Baker as part of his team’s nucleus, and the restricted free agent agreed to terms on a new deal with the Knicks shortly after free agency began at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
“I think we’re just trying to put the best team out there we can, whether it’s a rebuild or not rebuild, veteran guys, how it’s going to shake out,” Hornacek said. “We do have several good young players that we hope develop. You saw the development of Willy. KP’s only 22. I thought he took steps forward last year. He’s not a surprise anymore. Ron Baker stepped it up and is improving. We got Frank coming in as an 18-year-old, he’ll be 19 during the season. We got some young guys that we can grow with. It all depends on who fills the other spots.”