When interim coach Mike Woodson stopped short of anointing Jeremy Lin the Knicks’ starting point guard for next season, he did so with a reason. The Knicks have eyes on landing a veteran point guard to share the load and do not want to close the door on any point-guard recruits.
The Knicks have their list of capable point guards to pursue in free agency, which begins July 1, either for the veteran’s minimum at about $1.4 million or their lower exception of $2 million. Their $5 million mid-level exception is expected to go to Lin, 24, who not only adds another dimension to Woodson’s sickly playoff offense but adds a boatload of cash to owner James Dolan’s coffers.
Anthony J. Causi
LIN THE MIX: The Knicks are likely to form a point-guard tandem of Jeremy Lin and a free agent — such as Raymond Felton, Kirk Hinrich or Jonny Flynn.
Some of the cheaper veteran free agents include Derek Fisher, Gary Neal, Kirk Hinrich, Ramon Sessions and even ex-Knick Raymond Felton. The Knicks are helped because the market for mid-tier players is suppressed by the new collective bargaining agreement, and most teams already have their starting point guard.
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Other young free-agent point guards include Amityville’s A.J. Price, Jannero Pargo and former Syracuse star Jonny Flynn, whom the Knicks staff likes. Goran Dragic and Steve Nash are out of reach, and Andre Miller and Jameer Nelson also appear pie-in-the-sky.
The Knicks want to build around Linsanity. General manager Glen Grunwald does not believe the Knicks’ 8-1 February run with Lin at the controls was a fluke. But management has questions as Lin rehabs from last month’s left knee surgery, starting with: Will he be durable enough to last a full 82-game schedule as a starter, especially given his style of barreling into the paint?
Jared Jeffries, in his weekly appearance on ESPN radio Friday, said he feels Lin is the answer to lead the Amar’e Stoudemire-Carmelo Anthony Knicks.
“We’ve got to have a point guard,’’ Jeffries said. “I think that a point guard that demands the respect of both of them [Stoudemire and Anthony] will do a lot better. I think the big key is for Jeremy to take the next step as a point guard. He has to command the ball, have control of the offense and get guys in the right spot.
“I have in full confidence in Jeremy [being the leader] because a guy that plays as hard as he does, understands the game the way he does, you can’t help but follow his example.’’
In his exit meeting, J.R. Smith, who may exercise a player option in his contract for next season, was told by Woodson to work on his point-guard skills because the Knicks could use him in a backup spot.
“My defense is my No. 1 emphasis in my game,’’ Smith said. “Secondly, being a combo guard. Hopefully it won’t come down to that next year, but I will work on the point-guard skills, keep being a better ball-handler and watching a lot of film.’’
Though Toney Douglas is signed through next season, he is in Woodson’s doghouse and viewed as more of a shooting guard. Re-signing Mike Bibby, a Woodson favorite, is also possible as point-guard insurance.
Lin said he still has a slew of areas to work on. He told The Post he will pass on playing in the Las Vegas Summer League but would accept an invitation to the Select Team practicing against Team USA during its Olympic training camp in Las Vegas.
“I don’t think I’ve mastered anything,’’ Lin said. “Becoming more explosive, the catch-and-shoot, passing, limiting turnovers, reading the game, getting stronger, defense. That’s the good thing of this season. I’ve had struggles to know how much further I have to go.’’
The Knicks won’t have combo guard Iman Shumpert (torn ACL) to start training camp, so re-signing Landry Fields looks to be a lock. Fields forms a good tandem with his buddy Lin. Because Fields has early Bird rights, the Knicks don’t need an exception to bring him back.
“I would love to,’’ Fields said. “With the character we have, the players and coaching staff we have, the organization is on the way up. I want to be part of it.’’
Especially if they lose sharpshooter Steve Novak, the Knicks will consider bringing back swingman Bill Walker, the starting small forward during much of the Linsanity run. Walker was cut by Grunwald in April to make room for center Dan Gadzuric, who was not in NBA condition.
Jeffries, also a free agent who wants to return despite chronic knee pain, said the Knicks should add “a young, athletic 3 that can come in and give Melo a break.’’