Utah Jazz: Thanks, St. Knick

Pick from N.Y. could turn into lottery bonus
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At last report, Keon Clark had been ordered to prison by an Illinois judge in December while Isiah Thomas was still sentenced to life as coach and president of the 14-29 New York Knicks, with fans calling for his firing nightly at Madison Square Garden.

Tom Gugliotta finished his 13-year NBA career with Atlanta in the 2004-05 season, while Ben Handlogten - remember him? - headed to South Korea and Spain after playing in 38 games over two seasons for the Jazz.

Stephon Marbury is out after undergoing ankle surgery and could be on his way to a divorce with his hometown Knicks after a stormy season in which he clashed with Thomas and spent weeks away from the team following the death of his father.

As unlikely as it seems, however, they are all interconnected - Gugliotta, Clark, Handlogten, Thomas and Marbury - thanks to a future Knicks first-round draft pick with seemingly fantastic possibilities for the Jazz.

It is a pick that will link the fates of the Knicks and the Jazz likely for the next two-and-a-half seasons. The worse things get in New York, the louder the volume on the "Fire Isiah" chants at the Garden, the more likely it is the Jazz will be able to draft a franchise-changing player.

The Jazz obtained the Knicks' pick from Phoenix at the February 2004 trade deadline. It was part of a luxury-tax saving move for the Suns, who traded Gugliotta plus two future first-round picks, a second-round pick and cash to Utah for Clark and Handlogten.

Now the second of those two first-round picks is shaping up as a potential jackpot for the Jazz. The Suns obtained it from the Knicks as part of what was supposed to be Thomas' franchise-changing trade for Marbury, bringing the star guard from Coney Island home.

The Jazz, in turn, demanded the pick as part of the Gugliotta deal. It contained enough conditions that the Knicks were unlikely to part with it the rest of the decade, but those protections run out with the 2010 draft.

As it stands, the pick is protected through and including the first 23 picks in 2008, the first 22 picks in 2009 and is completely unprotected in 2010. Put simply: If the Knicks are due a lottery pick that year, that pick will belong to the Jazz.

"I'd be thrilled to have that pick, very happy,'' a rival general manager said. "You've got to be patient, but it's a really good pick."

For that far into the future, the Jazz can't help but wonder if they'll be drafting No. 1 overall given the state of the Knicks, which reached a new low with former executive Anucha Browne Sanders' victory in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the team in October.

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor, a native New Yorker, said the only thing the Jazz can do with the pick is evaluate it based on the present. The Knicks have the NBA's sixth-worst record this season.

"You don't project out because it's difficult to project out," O'Connor said. "But if you're talking about it in a trade and everything, you just say, 'Is it worth the [sixth] pick in the draft?' because that's where it is today."

O'Connor was asked if there was a star high school junior waiting to be added to a Jazz team that hopes to be contending for championships by 2010. "If you do that, you're a little nuts," he said. "I look at it, 'Where is their pick today?' "

ESPN.com's Chad Ford, a draft analyst for the site, said the Jazz could be in line for a high lottery pick in 2010, especially if a new general manager replaces Thomas.

"The interesting thing there," Ford said, "is it might be attractive to a new general manager to cut their losses and clear cap space for that summer." That could lead to an awful season on the court.

The Knicks also could look very similar to their 2007-08 selves, with an $87.7 million payroll. After all, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson, Jamal Crawford, Jerome James and Jared Jeffries all are under contract at least through 2009-10.

The Jazz refuse to get too far ahead of themselves in talking about the pick. They recognize the Knicks have pushed their payroll beyond $120 million in the past and have two seasons to spend their way into contention.

They also watched in the 2007 draft when Phoenix seemed destined to wind up with a high pick from Atlanta to complete the Joe Johnson trade. The Hawks finished third in the lottery, though, and kept the top-three protected pick.

That pick is unprotected this draft, but the Suns no longer are even guaranteed a lottery pick with the Hawks in playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

For the Knicks, the pick is another misstep during Thomas' tenure running the team. The Knicks are said to have "begged" for it back from the Jazz, offering trade packages of future picks and players.

"I think this pick shows the arrogance of the Knicks and the state of their rebuilding plan," Ford said. "They surely thought they would have given the pick away by now and be back to contending again."

Most teams employ a sliding scale in protecting their draft picks, but Thomas simply reduced the protection by one pick (from 25 to 22) in each of four drafts from 2006 to 2010. One NBA general manager called it "the oddest protection I've ever seen."

The general manager said the only GM who would give away a pick as Thomas did is one who didn't expect to still be in his job to face the future backlash. He also was asked to guess where the Jazz would be picking come 2010.

"The team is a disaster," he said, referring to the Knicks, "but it's too hard to predict. I'd definitely say top 15, probably top 10. It could be a home run, too."

The Knicks also traded away first-round picks to Chicago in acquiring Eddy Curry, picks that turned into Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. Ford said he would keep the pick if he was O'Connor rather than selling high this summer.

"You never know where you're going to be in a couple of years and it may be something they need," he said.

For his part, Jazz forward Carlos Boozer expressed more concern with beating the Knicks after losing 113-109 in New York on Nov. 26, than with imaging the possibilities that could come in 2010.

"To me, they're one of the teams in the league that's been stacked for years and just hasn't figured it out," Boozer said.

Williams said the pressure of playing in New York had taken a toll on the Knicks, but added, "I think that they should be better than the way they're playing."


The trades

Jan. 25, 2004

Phoenix acquires Antonio McDyess, Howard Eisley, Charlie Ward, Maciej Lampe, draft rights to Milos Vujanic, two future first-round draft picks and cash from N.Y. for Stephon Marbury, Anfernee Hardaway and Cezary Trybankski.

Feb. 19, 2004

Jazz acquire Tom Gugliotta, 2004 first-round draft pick, future Knicks first-round draft pick, 2005 second-round draft pick and cash from Phoenix for Keon Clark and Ben Handlogten.

The protection

The future Knicks first-round pick came with a set of conditions that guarantee it would not be turned over this decade.

* 2006: Protected through and including the 25th pick

* 2007: Protected through and including the 24th pick

* 2008: Protected through and including the 23rd pick

* 2009: Protected through and including the 22nd pick

* 2010: No protection