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One of Knicks' biggest needs is a 'lead guard,' GM Steve Mills says

If you’re still wondering where the New York Knicks’ priorities are this offseason, general manager Steve Mills has the answer.

“It’s clear we need a lead guard, someone that can really carry the load, day in and day out. That’s something that I think is one of our biggest needs,” Mills said on MSG Network in “Jeff Hornacek: A Knicks Beginning.”

Mills was responding to the following question: If all factors were equal, which position would the Knicks prioritize in the offseason?

His answer is the latest indication the club will focus on the backcourt in free agency. New coach Jeff Hornacek has hinted at the same approach in several interviews.

The Knicks feel set in the frontcourt with Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Robin Lopez. The backcourt is less certain.

Arron Afflalo has an $8 million player option for the 2016-17 season. He hasn’t made a decision on the option yet, but the expectation is that he will opt out. Rookie Jerian Grant is still developing and may not be ready to take on a starting role. Jose Calderon, 34, may be best suited coming off of the bench at this point. And Tony Wroten is rehabbing a knee injury. So it makes sense that New York would prioritize the lead guard position in the offseason.

The club will have at least $18 million to spend in the offseason, and could also explore the trade market to acquire a guard. They and any other team with needs in the backcourt will have interest in free agent Mike Conley. Restricted Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson also has fans in the Knicks organization, but it seems as if Los Angeles will retain the second-year player.

Mills said one player the Knicks certainly have interest in is Willy Hernangomez. The GM said the Knicks hope to sign Hernangomez, a 2015 second-round pick, this summer. Hernangomez, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward, is close friends with Porzingis, and the Knicks are optimistic the 22-year-old can develop under their coaching staff.

“We won’t be able to do anything until July 1 but we’re in conversations about that,” Mills said of signing Hernangomez.

The Knicks also may acquire a draft pick. They are working out draft-eligible players at their facility, according to sources. The triangle offense has been emphasized in workouts, sources say.

Mills commented on the Knicks’ approach on draft night in the MSG Network show.

“Teams have multiple picks, so some of those teams are going to be interested in moving their picks. A lot is going to depend on who is there in the draft that we really like,” he said. “We have a feel for if there are any players that we really like that we think can impact this team and then we’ll go out and aggressively get a pick if we think something’s there. But we also have to balance the number of young guys on the roster versus veterans that we may be able to bring in through free agency or trade. So that’s a balance that we’re constantly looking at.”

Mills also said that he and Phil Jackson have a pool of dozens of free agents that they feel can fit the team. That group will be whittled down in the coming weeks as the Knicks determine which players will be realistic targets.

“The most important thing is to find out and figure out what players we think fit into how we’re going to play,” Mills said. “So it’s to identify a pool of 30 or 40 players that we really believe can fit into the [Knicks’] style of play.

"Now that we have Jeff on board, we’ll discuss with him how he sees certain guys and how he sees this team progressing and where he feels the holes are. ... The most important thing is to understand who the guys are that you have a really good chance of getting so that you’re not chasing the guys that you really don’t have a chance.”

Phil takes shot at Lakers: During the show on MSG Network, Jackson said that he told the Lakers they'd "be sorry" if they didn't select Porzingis in the 2015 draft. "We knew that he had a lot of talent. We saw that even in the workout with him shooting, and I had some fun with one of the Buss guys [Lakers executives] and I told him after the workout, 'You guys are going to be sorry if you don't pick up Porzingis with the second pick.' They didn't, we did," Jackson said. The Lakers took D'Angelo Russell at No. 2 and the Knicks drafted Porzingis at No. 4. … The Knicks hosted a workout for a group of veteran free agents at their practice facility. Pierre Jackson and former lottery pick Royce Young were in attendance. Kurt Rambis, on the verge of agreeing to a new deal to join Hornacek’s staff, was heavily involved in the workouts. Other players in attendance included former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, who also worked out for the Brooklyn Nets recently, and former Sixer Arnett Moultrie, according to Basketball Insiders.