Ron Baker’s best Knicks shot could be long gone

LAS VEGAS — A year ago, Knicks young guard Ron Baker sat atop the world, signing a shocking new two-year, $9 million contract with the coveted room exception.

Off a promising Cinderella rookie year, he gained a reputation as a hard-nosed physical defender and became a prominent piece of the franchise’s young core.

Even though Phil Jackson brought him in for the 2016-17 season, his strongest backer was Jeff Hornacek, who saw himself in the undrafted Baker.

Baker still has his blond locks and surfer good looks, but a lot has changed in a year. The former Wichita State standout is in Las Vegas unable to play in summer league — still in the final stages of rehab after February’s shoulder surgery.

More importantly, he’s lost his coach/friend in Hornacek. Baker has a guaranteed pact of $4 million for this season, but hardly has a locked-up spot on the 15-man roster.

The Knicks have 16 players under contract — one over the max — and are exploring adding another veteran big. The guard positions are overstocked, especially if they can’t trade shooting guard Courtney Lee.

“I’m going into training camp confident,” Baker told The Post in his first remarks since Hornacek got canned. “I’ll try my best to be in good shape, compete, do what I’m asked. Obviously, we’re over the roster limits. I don’t control that. I can only control what I can control — coming in every day, ready to work and being positive.”

Baker attempted to put a positive spin on Hornacek’s ouster, but his disappointment could not be hidden. Baker once said Hornacek was his “doppelganger.”

“After he got released, he gave me a call a week after,” Baker said. “Jeff being Jeff, he wished me well. Reaching out to me, one thing he said if I ever need anything, he’s there for me. That’s the kind of guy he was every day.”

And now Hornacek is gone amid management’s strong innuendos he didn’t connect well with all the younger players. And new coach David Fizdale is running the show with massive amounts of personnel input. The Knicks can use the stretch provision on Joakim Noah on Sept. 1, but the same 2019 cap savings can be had if they waive the rugged center by the regular-season finale.

“Obviously you want the best for everybody in the franchise,” Baker said. “The reality is, it’s a business, things like that happen. You have to move on from it. The good news is I really like the staff that our front office has brought in, working with them the past few weeks. They’ve bought into having a new culture and doing the right things and really want to hang my hat on that.”

During Sunday’s second summer-league game, Baker, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke sat courtside with Fizdale, who sat in the middle of Hardaway and Burke. Fizdale was often seen animatedly discussing the action with those two players. Baker was on the outside seat. Perhaps it was just symbolism. Baker has been around all week hanging with the team while Hardaway and Burke just got to town.

The 2017-18 season was a series of sophomore-jinx moments for Baker, who battled various injuries from training camp on. He suffered a broken orbital bone before a torn rotator cuff on Jan. 30 ended his season. Baker played just 29 games.

“I tried my best to be around a lot this summer, working with our trainers, trying to get healthy, talking to coach, seeing how he coaches the team and trying my best to learn a lot by watching. I’ve done a lot of [watching] this year,” Baker said.

Baker, 25, started shooting two weeks ago and hopes to be cleared for contact and scrimmages in early August. Then Fizdale can get a feel for what Baker’s got.

The Knicks coach talks relentlessly about loving athleticism and length. Baker has the latter — a 6-7-1/2 wingspan — but sources believe Baker, who’s known as a frenzied cheerleader on the bench, will have to improve his corner 3-pointer to solidify his roster spot.

“I think I lead by example on the court,” Baker said. “I like to be scrappy and do a lot of little things. Fiz is about that. He’s big on defense. Obviously there’s things I need to work on offensively to continue on that end, but every day I focus on doing the right thing, being the guy who works hard with high energy and plays smart.”

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