ORLANDO, Fla. — The Knicks dined with Joakim Noah on Friday and then reached an agreement with their No. 1 free-agent big-man target.
Noah will get a four-year, $72-million contract to be the Knicks’ starting center, a league source said. The framework of the deal was worked out just after midnight Friday morning, when teams could start negotiating with free agents. The Knicks finalized the deal after a dinner meeting with Noah at a Disney Area Hotel.
Team president Phil Jackson, general manager Steve Mills, coach Jeff Hornacek and special adviser Clarence Gaines attended the meeting, which lasted more than three hours.
“We’re very confident something will work out with him,” Hornacek said after leaving the meeting.
Teams are not allowed to announce any deals until the free-agent moratorium is lifted Thursday. That’s when players can sign their new deals.
All signs pointed to Noah, a New York native, joining the Knicks. The former Bull was in a New York state of mind Friday, posting a picture on his verified Instagram account of himself wearing a Knicks hat.
The deal — which is fully guaranteed, the source said — is a steep price for a 31-year-old center who has battled injuries in recent years. But after sending Robin Lopez to Chicago in the Derrick Rose trade, the Knicks made it a priority to find a rim protector, an active defender and someone who can score and make plays in the post.
Noah, when healthy, can do all those things. The former Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-Star is one of the best-passing centers in the league. He joins a starting unit that consists of former Bulls teammate Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.
The Knicks still have nine roster spots to fill and roughly $13 million to spend. The next position they need to address is starting shooting guard. ESPN reported that the Knicks were in talks with Dwyane Wade, but Miami can give him much more money. It would seem the Knicks are a long shot at best.
But the Knicks are in “win-now” mode, and Jackson is concentrating on putting together a team that could end a three-year playoff drought. He’s trying to add proven veterans, some of whom are hungry to not only return to the playoffs but resurrect their careers after some down or injury-plagued seasons. Rose and Noah fit that description.
Another oft-injured player, veteran shooting guard Eric Gordon, is on the Knicks’ radar. He played AAU basketball with Rose. Gordon is a good shooter but has played fewer than 65 games in each of the last seven seasons. Gordon reportedly is choosing between the Knicks and Grizzlies.
A more prudent signing would be Courtney Lee, a solid two-way shooting guard who has played at least 77 games in seven of his nine NBA seasons. A source said the Knicks have discussed a four-year deal with Lee. Another source indicated that they were trying to set up a meeting with Lee, who has an offseason home in Orlando.
Combo guard Austin Rivers also has drawn interest from the Knicks. They planned to meet with him Friday.
Evan Turner had been linked to the Knicks, but he reportedly reached an agreement on a four-year, $75-million contract with Portland on Friday.
“We have some holes to fill,” Hornacek said. “We have money. The big question was, so does everybody else and how crazy it gets. You would think you would be able to fill all the holes. If guys we like end up getting huge efforts somewhere that takes them off the table, it becomes difficult. Hopefully for us, the pieces fit.”
Noah played in a career-low 29 games last season because of a shoulder injury that ultimately required season-ending surgery. He averaged a career-worst 4.3 points and 8.8 rebounds. He has missed at least 15 games in six of the last seven seasons with various ailments, including knee surgery.
But when Noah is on the court, he’s a tenacious defender and gives maximum effort. A two-time NCAA champion at Florida, Noah has averaged a double-double four times in his nine NBA seasons and once made the All-NBA first team.