In reality, it probably all comes down to his face.
I know that doesn't seem fair. After all, how much can you dislike a face, and what can really be done to correct such a problem? Well, I've never been a fan of the Knicks' Jared Jeffries and must admit that much of this dislike derives from his physical appearance.
He looks a bit like someone stuck an 8-year-old's head on a grown man's body. His expression often looks like he just found out his dog has gone missing. And yet, Mike D'Antoni has decided that Jeffries will be the Knicks' starting center for the immediate future. Although there's no doubt it's the right decision for now, it does make me wonder a little about the future of the D'Antoni era.
Jeffries was not Isiah Thomas' worst signing. Recall Jerome James -- no, really, do it. To be fair, Jeffries probably wasn't even among Isiah's worst five moves, but at the arrival of Jeffries, there was still the feeling that $30 million just doesn't buy what it used to.
At best, he was an intangibles, glue guy on a team that needed more than just glue to be put together. He was like those extra pieces at the end of putting together a complicated piece of furniture, the kind you just stick in a drawer and wonder what their actual purpose was. On such terrible Knicks teams, he just didn't seem to do anything of use.
And again there was that face, always looking somehow helpless out there on the floor. For me, fair or not, the sight of Jeffries came to symbolize the Knicks' impotence on the court. It got so bad, some friends and I used to joke during blowouts that the only halftime speech that would make any sense would be for Isiah to fight Jeffries as if they were in a Martin Scorcese film. No words, no chalkboard, just a calm walk into the room, before lunging at Jeffries and beating him within an inch of his life. In hindsight, it might not have been a totally rational strategy.
But with D'Antoni's arrival, things changed slightly. The Knicks didn't start winning, but Jeffries' use seemed more discernible. Within the D'Antoni system, you could see how a guy like Jeffries fit in. Yes, he can handle the ball. Yes, he can guard multiple positions. And yes, with all his pokes and prods and loose balls chased down, he did have a positive impact on the game.
He was, however, still expendable. With a chance to clear some valuable cap space, Donnie Walsh pulled quickly the trigger, sending Jeffries to Houston. Just like that, he was gone, almost as if he had never been there.
Houston didn't really get him either. So after less than a year with the team, the Rockets were looking to trade Jeffries before the deadline, only to find that even teams who might be interested in a 6-foot-9 bean pole did not want to actually give anything to get him. So they paid him to leave. It's kind of an amazing thing a buyout, isn't it? The Rockets essentially said, "If we gave you all your money now, would you stop showing up here? That would work better for us." I'm telling you, it was the face.
D'Antoni, however, never forgot about Jeffries. So when everyone was busy dissecting the pros and cons of the Knicks' acquisition of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, D'Antoni was eying a way for the gangly forward to make a New York return.
From all accounts, the Knicks' interest in re-acquiring Jeffries had a lot to do with his fitting in with D'Antoni's system. You heard that a lot, that he was a player who fit the Knicks' system. But does it beg the question: Does anyone want to play a system where Jeffries as the starting center is a perfect fit?
Jeffries is supposed to be a hustle, intangibles guy, but I like the guy in that role to be more physical, more of an enforcer. Sure, he can chase down a loose ball, but how about a well-timed elbow every now and again? We're also not just talking about a decent guy off of the bench, he's actually going to be the starting center. Dwight Howard's shoulders just chuckled.
It's one of these fault lines that make you wonder if the whole D'Antoni experience is right for New York. It just feels a little unnatural for the Knicks to play this way. When it comes to D'Antoni, I find myself like one of those swing voters who say they like President Obama personally but disagree with his policies. The idea that D'Antoni looks at Jeffries and sees the perfect starting center is one of those ideological differences that makes me think, "Sure, D'Antoni's a good enough fella, just also a radical Marxist intent on destroying our way of life."
All that being said, this is the system they have, and there's no doubt that Jeffries fits it. The Knicks were unstoppable Monday night against Utah. Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire were so coldly efficient it was almost startling. It was the first, "Wow, the Knicks have two superstars" game. Yet, despite all the offensive fireworks, Jeffries might have shined brightest, despite not scoring a single point.
Hustle plays are often overrated, but it was truly impossible to not notice how many of them Jeffries came up with. Whether it was chasing down a ball out of bounds, tapping a rebound back to a teammate or sliding over for some superb help defense, he was literally everywhere, always doing something that furthered the cause.
So Jeffries -- and his face -- will be manning the middle indefinitely, and for now, it's the best the Knicks can do. Hey, it sure beats Jerome James.