May 22, 2003 -- Knicks GM Scott Layden knows the chances of landing in the top three in tonight's LeBron James lottery are slim. The likeliest ping-pong ball scenario remains at 9.

Since Layden is as likely to trade a ninth pick as use it, it's no surprise he disputed the common notion the draft has just three impact players - James, Yugo center Darko Milicic and Carmelo Anthony.

Layden acknowledged he will explore pulling off another draft-day deal, packaging his first-rounder and a veteran such as Latrell Sprewell to add size. Hence, the need to increase the value of his pick.

"Everybody talks so much about the first three picks," Layden said. "But we believe this is a deep draft."

Allan Houston will be on the dais tonight in Secaucus for good luck but the odds are long - 1.5 percent chance to win LeBron, 5.4 for a top-3.

Layden said the club wants to get "longer," emphasizing not just center or power forward.

"Size can come in every position," Layden said. "We're certainly trying to make the team longer. Sometimes it doesn't have to be a shot-blocking center. It can come for another position."

The Knicks have long tried to get bigger at small forward, where Sprewell plays out of position. That's why the Knicks will step up their efforts again to acquire Keith Van Horn, whose season ended badly in Philly. The 6-10 Van Horn can play small forward and Don Chaney actually loves him. The Sixers rejected Sprewell at the Feb. 22 deadline.

Regarding James, Layden said, "He's got the ability to be a great player, no question. He's got a great future in the NBA."

Some bigs who could be available at No. 9 include power forwards Mike Sweetney, Nick Collison, Sofoklis Schortsianitis, Anderson Varajao, and Chris Bosh and 7-foot center Chris Kaman. The Knicks can fall no worse than 11.

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Layden guaranteed McDyess' career is not in jeopardy, despite speculation he's done. "As we've said before, Antonio is going to play next year," Layden said.

The Knicks still won't set a timetable for his return.
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