Nearly two weeks into his first free agency as team-president-in-waiting, Steve Mills used up almost all of his cap room on two players: Tim Hardaway Jr. and Ron Baker, the latest moneymaker.
The Knicks agreed to re-sign Baker on the first day of free agency July 1, but due to various factors the terms weren’t settled until Tuesday when ESPN disclosed the shocking cap damage – two years, $ 8.9 million, with a player option in Year 2.
That surprisingly robust contract leaves the Knicks with less than $ 1.5 million in space to build the remaining roster, presumably taking them out of the running for Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose. As the Daily News reported, Mills told people that he was uninterested in re-signing Rose, who remains a free agent in a thinning market.
The Knicks can still create space by trading players — including any deal involving Carmelo Anthony — but they clearly are very high on Baker, who barely made it on the roster last year before earning his way into the rotation.
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Baker developed into a favorite of Jeff Hornacek, who sees his former self in the guard as an overlooked prospect from the Midwest who fought for an NBA roster spot. Still, Baker can’t shoot nearly as well as Hornacek, a former All-Star, and needs to improve on his playmaking if given extended time at point guard. His commitment to defense and willingness to play within the system prompted Hornacek to start Baker in 13 games last season.
The 24-year-old averaged 4.1 points and 2.1 assists on 38 percent shooting last season.
With 12 players now on guaranteed deals with the Knicks, the only point guards are Baker and 18-year-old rookie Frank Ntilikina. The hope was to groom Ntilikina behind a veteran point guard, but it looks like he may be thrown immediately into the NBA fire.
The Frenchman, who was drafted eighth overall, did not play in Summer League because of a sore knee.
“I haven’t even seen him play live yet,” Hornacek said earlier this month. “From tape, just like every rookie, it’s tough to get in there and the amount of games and the intensity when the season starts, that stuff all kind of shakes itself out. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do with that size and everything else.”
Baker’s deal is almost equal to the two years, $ 9 million that the Knicks declined to match for Justin Holiday, who signed with the Bulls after being the only New York player to appear in all 82 games last season.
As the News reported, the Knicks had also begun negotiating a contract with Damyean Dotson, a sharpshooting wing who was drafted 44th overall in June. If given more than a two-year deal, Dotson’s contract will have to fit into cap space – thus eating up the little that Mills has saved barring a trade.
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