Per 36 Minutes:
In the wake of last season’s crippling four-game sweep at the hands of the Celtics, the memory of his Game 2 brick-handed blunder fresh as a flesh rot, I penned a farewell for Jared Jeffries that closed with this:
He couldn’t shoot. He couldn’t really jump. Oftentimes, he’d react to an arriving pass as if it were a ball of spent uranium that’d been shot out of a canon. Incredibly, his free throw shooting has fallen 227 percentage points since college. His pick-and-rolls were easier to hedge than Fannie Mae, and his presence on the block exhibited all the speed, force, and grace of a beached turtle at low tide.
But no one could say he wasn’t loyal. Even after it was announced he was destined for the sweet, smoggy vistas of Houston, Jeffries — by all accounts a classy guy and solid teammate wherever he’s been — remained gracious. A year later, when the Knicks came calling, he picked up before the first ring even ended. He showed up. And, well, he showed up. Even if he’s not a part of this team’s grand plan going forward, let’s hope he can at least take some success-imparted solace in that one true canto threading past Knick teams godly and godawful alike: Once a Knick, Always a Knick.
Last February’s Melodrama having minced the roster to near gristle, resigning Jeffries – who had recently been bought out by the Rockets – was all the roster-reinforcement the Knicks could muster. As soon as the season ended, I, like many, assumed Jeffrightened gone for good. We were, after all, a team on the rise, with devices on stocking the pantry full of cheaper, more productive provisions and shedding any lingering flotsam from the bad old days. Sadly, fair or unfair, Jared Jeffries amounted to an ugly totem to the latter.
A season later, the same fiscal straits — narrow and holding little to no margin for error — remain. The narrative surrounding Jeffries, on the other hand, couldn’t be more redeemed. After seasons spent enduring more boos than a Christian gladiator, JJ’s glue guy ethos was perhaps the most consistent factor in a campaign riddled with schizophrenic turns and about faces of fortune. His offense was still stuck in the Naismith era – really, the fact that he carved out the court-time niche he did is even more incredible when you think about how high a premium his former coach placed on 5-tool offensive prowess – but his defense, in particular his help rotations, was as highbrow as ever. Oxygen still fled the building in a Martian vacuum whenever he touched the ball, but the Garden crowd finally started to come around to the Indiana product’s sincere, sweat-soaked effort. Where once rained thunderous boo-bird droppings now bellowed cheers of thanks, and a player who epitomized guilt by association suddenly instilled a curious trust, even hope.
Sadly, Jeffries wasn’t immune to the lockout injury bug, missing 26 games with maladies of hammy and knee. As such, he was never able to forge a consistent rotational niche, beyond his brilliant – though somewhat bit – part in the early days of Linsanity. There, like a few otherwise cast-aside teammates, Jeffries thrived in a system for far too brief a spell a genuine testament to its doomed architect’s dreams. Long after the joy of those now seemingly ancient days dwindled, Knick Knation continued to embrace Jeffries as Apostle to an exiled faith. Even on this very board, absence made the mind grow weary. Particularly during the Miami series, when JJ’s length and smarts were much missed amidst Lebron’s murderous limbs. Not that Jeffries’ presence would’ve altered the outcome; but it certainly couldn’t have hurt.
Jeffries has already expressed interest in returning for next season and – knowing as he must his place in the contract pecking order – would likely accept the league minimum to make that happen. At that price, JJ would be a cool bargain as the 7th or 8th man, and a near surefire stopper on a second unit whose scoring punch is, at this point, uncertain at best. More importantly, his locker room likability and media-thickened skin make for dividends beyond the box score. Funny how a player once pegged the weakest link – and whom so many assumed would be the first cast adrift for the sake of moving forward – has become an almost indispensable part to maintaining this fickle semblance of progress. If that’s what we’re calling this.
In the mean time, hopefully JJ can take pride in just how far he’s come in the hearts and minds of a fan base so prone to undue venom. Not that appeasing one of the sport’s most fickle, impatient cadres somehow equates to redemption, of course. If anything, it’s in those very salutations — the cheers for a humble, once-banished soldier — that we might find a little for ourselves.
Grades (5 point scale):
Final Grade: B-