SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Jared Jeffries often talks about how blessed he is to be a professional basketball player. And most Knicks fans pray the team can trade him before next summer so it can free up more salary-cap space for its highly anticipated foray into free agency.
Although Jeffries was considered one of Isiah Thomas' bad contract decisions, Mike D'Antoni has brought out legitimate value in the versatile 6-10 forward, who has another year at $6.8 million left on the five-year deal for the full mid-level exception he signed in 2006.
"Isiah brought me in knowing the type of player I am, and he wanted me to be something else," said Jeffries, a standout in last night's workout at Skidmore College. "That's not his fault or my fault; it was just a misunderstanding between both of us. But now I have a coach who understands what I can bring to the table and what I can do."
One thing Jeffries has proved he can do well is guard point guards, and D'Antoni used him against the likes of Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. His quickness lets him stay with them and his size allows him to switch to a big man on a pick-and-roll. On offense, his smarts on the perimeter fit D'Antoni's ball-movement philosophy, and he gets up the floor quickly. He has struggled with consistency on his jumper, but his strengths make him a player D'Antoni will include in his rotation.
"Coach told me last season, 'Don't worry about the things you're not good at, be great at the things you're good at,' " Jeffries said. "That's all I focus on now, and everything else falls into place."
Mainly, Jeffries has to stay healthy, which he had trouble doing the previous three seasons. Last season at the trade deadline, Jeffries' former team, the Wizards, talked to the Knicks about reacquiring him. There were rumors of an 11th-hour trade with the Kings, but many with knowledge of the situation say a deal was not discussed with Sacramento.
Like Eddy Curry ($11.2 million in 2010-11), Jeffries is a potential trade candidate because of the team's interest in clearing as much cap space as possible for next summer, so the trade rumors are likely to persist. "That's just part of the NBA," said Jeffries, who knows most Knicks fans see him more for his contract than for his ability.
Is it tough to play with a whole city down on you? "Man, I grew up in Indiana," said Jeffries, who was the state's Mr. Basketball in 2000 and later played for the Hoosiers. "If I played bad, the whole state hated me."
Notes & quotes: Curry returned to camp after going to Manhattan to have blood drained from his right calf muscle. Curry, who is doing conditioning work in the pool, wore a boot for precautionary reasons. He said he expects to be back next week . . . D'Antoni carefully sidestepped a question about the NBA's decision to use replacement referees in the preseason because of a contract impasse with the officials' union. "We're trying to get ready," he said. "We've got enough problems. We're not worried about anybody else's problems." . . . The Knicks open the preseason Sunday in Albany.