WINTER GARDEN, Fla. — The free-agent spending is set to begin in the NBA, and the first person the Knicks are expected to use their money on is center Joakim Noah.
The Knicks will meet with Noah on Friday, said a league source, who added that the interest is high on both sides.
New Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said getting a starting center is the team’s priority in free agency, and it’s clear that Noah is their top target. It’s possible something could get done quickly. The Knicks traded Robin Lopez in the deal that landed Derrick Rose last week 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 after summer league practice Thursday. “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 midrange shots. We want that ability. Players don’t like to be considered one-dimensional players. We don’t want that anyway.”
Noah, the son of former tennis star Yannick Noah, is from New York and could reunite with former Bulls teammate Rose. At Rose’s introductory news conference, he said he wanted Noah to join him and that he told him that over dinner last week.
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 free-agent negotiating period begins at 12:01 Friday morning, but players can’t be signed and teams can’t announce anything until July 7.
The meeting with Noah is expected to be in New York, but Knicks officials are in Orlando and could try to set up some sitdowns here.
The Knicks should have about $30 million to spend, and Noah might eat up a large chunk of that. But the Knicks have 10 roster spots to fill and have to spread the money around. A shooting guard and a backup point guard would be next on the pecking order.
Noah, 31, 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.
The one concern with Noah is his health. He appeared in only 29 games last season because of a shoulder issue that ultimately required surgery. He has 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.”
If the Knicks are able to secure a big man, they will turn their attention to shooting guard. Nicolas Batum and Kent Bazemore are high on their list but might be too expensive. More reasonably priced guards include Courtney Lee, Evan Turner, Eric Gordon and Gerald Henderson.
“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.