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Knicks say they've already fielded two calls about potential top draft pick

NEW YORK -- New York Knicks president Phil Jackson believes his team's awful season "may be a godsend" because of the potential for a top pick in June's draft.

"A draft pick can move an entire organization forward ... and this is our opportunity," Jackson said in front of a group of Knicks season-ticket holders at an event at Madison Square Garden.

Nonetheless, Jackson and general manager Steve Mills both said they will listen to any trade proposals offered for the Knicks' pick. Mills admitted the Knicks have already fielded two calls from teams inquiring about the pick.

"You have to sit back and see what comes towards you," Jackson said.

But at several points during their 40-minute chat in front of season-ticket holders, both Jackson and Mills referenced the value in keeping the pick.

Jackson said part of his job as team president is "shepherding the whole organization so that you don't get caught in giving away draft picks, you don't get caught without a future aspect."

The Knicks are in position to land a top pick in June's draft. They entered play Thursday night with the worst record (14-61) in the NBA and the worst record in the franchise's 69-year history.

If they finish with sole possession of the league's worst record, the Knicks will be guaranteed to pick no lower than fourth. They will also have the best odds (25 percent) at winning the top pick in the NBA lottery.

"If you sit around (picking) in the 20s and the late teens when you're drafting players, you're not going to move the franchise ahead. You've got to have a high draft pick to do that," Jackson said. "They're the ones that really move the franchise ahead. And this is our opportunity. It may be a godsend in the end result."

Jackson originally hoped that the Knicks would make the playoffs this season. But New York got off to a horrific start, losing 24 of its first 29 games.

Jackson eventually pulled the plug on the season by trading J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland for two second-round picks and two trade exceptions in early January.

"We knew we were going to have to take this team apart to get to where we wanted to go to," Jackson said. " ... I can make the argument we had to go through it. S--- happens and this season it did happen to us."

Jackson was asked by moderators from MSG Network if he knew who he'd like to draft if the Knicks land the top overall selection.

"I do," he said.

He then hinted that the decision would be between Duke's Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns when he told the audience that the NCAA Final Four this weekend is "going to be worth watching."

Jackson was asked if it was more important for a big man in his system to be a dominant defender or a strong offensive player.

"Gotta have a defender," Jackson said. "... That's a good starting point -- a guy like Tyson Chandler (whom the Knicks traded over the summer) is the defensive backup that we have to have. In this day and age in our game, there are so many screen and rolls, so many 3-point shooters, so many things that a player of size has to (do). Not only cover the paint and protect the basket but he has to be able to step out defensively and play a guard. And do some defensive work on the extreme part of the floor so it's very important that that player have defensive capabilities."

He wasn't discussing Towns or Okafor specifically. But Towns is widely considered the stronger defender at this stage of his career.

Jackson and Mills also talked about the organization's approach to free agency this summer. The Knicks are expected to have at least $25 million in cap space to offer free agents.

"It's a different approach than in the past -- we won't go after the biggest name out there, we'll go after players who fit in system and style," Mills said. "It may in fact be a big-name player but it's going to be who fits system-wise."

Mills said Carmelo Anthony has been active in discussing the team's plans in free agency, spending hours in his office recently to go over potential targets.

Jackson hopes to get one or two starting-caliber players in free agency. He made it clear that he doesn't want to "chase some cockamamie dream" by pursuing players based solely on name recognition in the offseason.

"That's the type of thing that we don't want to get involved in," Jackson said.