Assuming #9 has indeed seen his last burn at the Worldâ€™s Greatest, let us consider an epitaph:
He couldnâ€™t shoot. He couldnâ€™t really jump. Oftentimes, heâ€™d react to an arriving pass as if it were a ball of spent uranium thatâ€™d been shot out of 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 wasnâ€™t loyal. Even after it was announced he was destined for the sweet, smoggy vistas of Houston,Â JeffriesÂ â€” by all accounts a classy guy and solid teammate wherever heâ€™s been â€” 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 heâ€™s not a part of this teamâ€™s grand plan going forward, letâ€™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.
JaredÂ Jeffries. There might not be another player in the league who elicits a more lopsided opinion; an opinion more or less skewed by the situation he had the displeasure of enduring for most of his career. Out of all the idiotic signings during the Dark Age of the New York Knicks franchise,Â Jeffriesâ€™ albatross of a contract was the most glaring. Isiah Thomas has absorbed a great deal of flak for his work as Knicks GM, but no player under Thomasâ€™ regime has worn their scarlet letter as visibly asÂ Jeffries.
During the latter portion of last yearâ€™s NBA season, it became a pre-game ritual for tweeters to formulate their bestÂ JaredÂ JeffriesÂ jokes â€” a parade of wit and resentment that was at once too hilarious to ignore, and too cruel to partake. Whatâ€™s a player got to do to convince the fans that he wasnâ€™t the one who gave himself a five-year, 30 million dollar contract? Well, to answer my own question, whatever he needed to do, he didnâ€™t/couldnâ€™t do it.Â And so heâ€™s spent the entire length of his contract trying to justify a raise he was never worthy of, willingly doing the dirty work when New York was expecting a star (or you know,Â at leastÂ a quality sixth man).
Still, he was able to forge a sort of sporadically unique niche as a versatile defender capable of pestering everyone from Rajon Rondo to Dwight Howard. Albeit in bite-sized spurts.
Now clearly, I LoveÂ JaredÂ JeffriesÂ (For Sentimental Reasons). During the 2009-10 season, my fantasy basketball team was losing by incredibly slim margins, and I needed a 12th man to fill in the blanks. After signingÂ Jeffries, my teams shot up the rankings. Every game fromÂ JeffriesÂ had something unique in the stat-line. Iâ€™d never paid attention to him before, but just from the numbers, I could tell he was a unique player. Then I started watching him in real-time. And I watched as he guarded the oppositionâ€™s best player, whether it was a point guard, shooting guard, or center either because of his defensive ability, or because no one else on the team cared enough to try.
And for the right price, any team can use this type of player. In the future, I can see a perfectly symbiotic relationship betweenÂ JeffriesÂ and the Denver Nuggets (as if they didnâ€™t have enough former Knicks). If the Nuggets hold onto their pieces,Â JeffriesÂ could be the perfect player at the end of the bench. On an uptempo team that boasts a very good/very versatile team defense,Â JeffriesÂ would fit right in. Plus, as he is allergic to offense, there are no additional worries about divvying touches!
This isnâ€™t about assertingÂ JeffriesÂ as a great player. He isnâ€™t. He isnâ€™t a good player, and he isnâ€™t even much of an average one. But he understands his role, and it happens to be an important one â€” especially if on a good team with a solid defensive foundation.
WithÂ Jeffries, we ridicule and we stigmatize. But a player can only be who he is, whether that existence meets our expectations or not. Itâ€™s unfortunate that heâ€™s forced to carry the burdens of Isiah Thomasâ€™ failures, but itâ€™ll surely remain for the rest of his career. Sometimes, hard work wonâ€™t pay off no matter what you do.
Sam Cooke live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 â€“ Itâ€™s All Right / I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons)