The hedge bet behind the Knicks’ signing of Mario Hezonja

LAS VEGAS — Appropriately, in this gambling mecca, new Knicks signee Mario Hezonja was introduced as a hedge bet Tuesday at a press conference at UNLV.

It’s a hedge against striking out in 2019 free agency.

Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry said they hope Hezonja becomes part of the long-term future of this young, developing team. The management team appeared more toned down about 2019 free agency as the be-all and end-all.

Hezonja signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal, and if he excels, he genuinely could net a long-term deal. However, bringing back the 23-year-old Hezonja in 2019-20 probably means the Knicks would have gotten shut out with All-Star free agents in 2019 — which includes Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard. Headlining the second tier are Kemba Walker and Kevin Love.
The slight change in vibe Tuesday could be due to recent developments, such as a report confirmed by The Post that Irving and Butler prefer to join forces next summer.

It could also reflect the Knicks’ troubles in dealing Courtney Lee’s contract, which is key to opening a maximum-salary slot. In addition, several teams will have max cap room with some, including the Nets, opening slots for two max players.

“We didn’t say our ultimate goal was to have cap room in 2019 — that’s just a byproduct of the situation of how our salaries line up,’’ Mills said. “There’s no reason to think if Mario does really well, he shouldn’t be part of what we’re doing. Our goal is to put together a Knick team that could be competitive in the long-term.”

To be able to re-sign Hezonja in 2019 and go over the salary cap, the Knicks would need to place a cap hold of $9 million that would eat away at their maximum cap space.

Signing Kristaps Porzingis to a contract extension by October would also cost them about $10 million in 2019 cap space. Mills and Perry, in careful remarks, didn’t completely rule that out either, though they know more work needs to be done to shed other contracts.

“We’ll continue to stay in touch with Kristaps,’’ Perry said. “He’s part of our long-term plan. We’ll figure out at the appropriate time in terms of when we get into that negotiation We’re comfortable where we are with him and we’ll work together with his representation to figure something out.’’

Mills sounded like he didn’t want to put all his eggs in one basket regarding signing a star in 2019 free agency.

“Our goal is to build our team organically and around our young guys who were drafted by the team and to get better,’’ Mills said. “Our situation happens to be we will have cap room. But that’s not the goal we set out.

“Our primary goal is creating an environment that guys we’re drafting are getting better. We saw it as an opportunity to create space, bring a player in 2019 to add onto what we’re trying to do.’’

Perhaps the pressure has lessened now that their lottery pick, forward Kevin Knox, and their second-round center, Mitchell Robinson, have looked impressive after two summer league games, entering the encounter Tuesday against the Lakers. In addition, odds are they’ll add another lottery pick to the mix next June.

Whether or not to keep Hezonja long-term will be moot if he regresses to the underachiever he was in his first 2 ¹/₂ seasons in Orlando, after being the No. 5 pick by the Magic in the 2015 draft.

As part of the front office that selected Hezonja, Perry has a lot of incentive to turn him into a stud.

“We really feel he’s headed in the right direction,’’ Perry said. “He fits the timeline with a number of our other younger players.’’

Mills admitted Perry’s knowledge of Hezonja was a overriding factor in taking this plunge, as was the player’s uptick in the second part of the 2017-18 season.

“I spent two years with him,’’ Perry said. “I know him as a player and person. I know what drives him. I saw him go through tough times. Not playing much, he still was coming back to the gym at night and held belief in himself.’’

“Scott’s insight and experiences were important to me to assess this,’’ Mills said. “So much of how to motivate guys and get the best of guys is how they feel the people around them really believe in them. I know what Scott believes in what Mario can become as a player.’’

“We tried numerous times to obtain him from Scott.”

Perry said coaching changes in Orlando stunted Hezonja’s growth.

“I could see the confidence coming back [late last season],’’ Perry said. “He started to feel comfortable and think better things are to come. We have the right developmental team in place and coaching staff. I know he’s a tremendously hard worker, has a great passion for the game and believes in himself he can become a great player in this league.’’

Perry and Mills haven’t spoken recently to formerly exiled Joakim Noah and gave no indication they want to bring him to training camp. They said Fizdale has spoken with Noah. The Knicks can stretch Noah’s contract and save 2019 cap space by waiting until Sept. 1.

“All options are on the table, whether it’s coming back or not,’’ Perry said.

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