Utah Jazz: Knicks' pick is looking good

NBA » New York's 0-3 start bodes well for Utah Jazz in '10 draft.
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The way the Knicks have opened their season, the Jazz could be forgiven for feeling as if they hold a winning New York lottery ticket, not payable until June, of course.

With the Jazz owning New York's unprotected 2010 first-round draft pick as the result of a long-forgotten trade, the Knicks have started 0-3, falling behind by 31 points (at Miami), 21 (at Charlotte) and 23 (vs. Philadelphia).

Although they rallied to force overtime against both the Bobcats and 76ers, the Knicks also were forced to address Chris Duhon's criticism two games into the season that the team wasn't ready to play.

"We lost this game before the game even started," Duhon told reporters in Charlotte. "A lot of us weren't taking the game serious, joking around, not really preparing for the game, and it showed. It just seems like we're always taking a team's first punch."

Duhon continued: "We're not that good. We can't come in here and joke around and take the game lightly. ... It shows in our layup line, it shows before the game. That's why we come out and we're not ready to play."

All of which is music to the Jazz's ears. The worse the Knicks are this season, the better a pick the Jazz will have. Even if New York finishes with the NBA's worst record and wins the draft lottery, it would have to give up the No. 1 overall pick to the Jazz.

It's a parting gift from former Knicks president Isiah Thomas, who originally included the unprotected pick as part of the package to acquire Stephon Marbury from Phoenix in January 2004.

(Speaking of Marbury, the Knicks were treated to another sideshow involving the fallen hometown star when he attempted to sit courtside for Saturday's Madison Square Garden opener, only to leave after it turned out he had bought a second-row ticket.)

The Jazz obtained the pick a month later from the Suns in a trade-deadline deal that brought Tom Gugliotta to Utah in exchange for Ben Handlogten and Keon Clark. They held onto the pick in the years since and now are poised to hit the jackpot.

"I hope we get a great pick," said Deron Williams, who was the Jazz's highest draft pick in 23 years when he was taken No. 3 overall in 2005. "It couldn't hurt."

Such a pick could deliver a franchise-changing player, one who would play on a salary-cap friendly rookie contract for four years. The Knicks, meanwhile, have assembled a team around players with expiring contracts, trying to clear cap space to sign LeBron James.

"I can't worry about that," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "I've got the picks right here, the guys we've got. That's way down the line. If we have to discuss that all year long, ... that's not part of my job. I don't even want to talk about it."

Sloan acknowledged that he was aware of the Knicks' pick, but said: "I'm also aware of ours. That's the thing you want to stay away from." Talking about hoping for another team to lose, Sloan added, "I'm not into basketball for that reason."

After the Knicks' 0-3 start was noted, Sloan said: "Too bad. We still have to play them twice. Whoever it is, those things never come into my mind."

The possibilities nevertheless are tantalizing for the Jazz, who have made preparations in anticipation of having a lottery pick. The first step was identifying 12 top prospects to scout before Dec. 31, to guard against the possibility of one suffering a season-ending injury.

The Jazz will have at least two members of their front office/scouting staff see each of those prospects play in both a practice and game to ensure a comprehensive evaluation.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the consensus No. 1 overall pick around the league is Kentucky's John Wall, a freshman point guard from Raleigh, N.C.

Even if the Knicks finish with the worst record, the Jazz would have just a 25 percent chance of coming away with the top pick from the draft lottery. Still, Williams was asked Sunday if he thought he could play with Wall.

"I think so," Williams said. "I can play with anybody."

Even another point guard?

"He's a scorer, though," Williams answered. "He's athletic, very athletic, freakishly athletic. I can play with anybody."