CHICAGO — Eddy Curry marched down the hallway toward the Bulls locker room here at the United Center and barked, “J.J.!” A mountain of a man in a natty suit turned, spotted his seeker and then produced a wide smile.
“Look at you,” Jerome James said proudly.
Then the most amazing thing happened. Curry disappeared into James’ bear hug. If there was ever a perspective to note in the physical transformation of the 7-foot Curry, there it was as he stood side by side with a fellow 7-footer who clearly still carried the oppressive body mass that Curry has long shed from his body. It was a meeting of two careers going in opposite directions: James, 34, is a regular member of the inactive list and at the end of his overpriced mid-level exception deal signed with the Knicks in 2005. Curry, 27, is trying to rejuvenate his career before his contract — also signed with the Knicks in 2005 — expires after next season.
And all throughout the United Center, where Curry’s career started with the Bulls, the common phrase was a stunned “Have you seen Eddy Curry?”
Curry says he spent very little time here in his hometown and offseason home last summer. Instead, while he went through his summer workout program that helped start his physical transformation, Curry decided it best to stay away from Chicago, where many of his off-the-court problems of the past year took place.
Last night’s game between the Knicks and Bulls was his first game back in his hometown in almost two full years. Curry modestly remembered the 105-100 win for the Knicks on Jan. 8, 2008 as “a decent night.” His stat line leaped off the boxscore — 29 points, eight rebounds, four blocks in 36:44 — as a reminder of the player he used to be.
A player Curry believes he can be again. And sooner than most people may think.
“It definitely feels like a long time ago,” he said. “But I think that those days are close. I feel like I’m definitely feeling 100 percent. At this point it’s about continuing to get adjusted and have them continue to get adjusted to me.”
It was obvious in Curry’s cameo during Tuesday’s loss in Charlotte that his teammates need to adjust. Not only were the passes into the post awful, but, as Mike D’Antoni put it, “we missed him all over the place.”
Curry moved very well and surprised himself with how easily he got open on the pick-and-roll. Twice he made quick rolls down the lane — a la David Lee — and was wide open, but the pass never came.
“Not that people don’t want to , but with him it’s a different type of basketball,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve just got to get more comfortable. As we get more comfortable, we can expand his minutes and hopefully that’ll happen.”
The good news is expanding his minutes finally doesn’t have to do with his conditioning. In fact, Curry, who returned after missing two weeks with a knee injury, said that he is ready to go as a regular in the rotation whenever D’Antoni is ready to put him there.
“I feel like I’m good now,” he said. “I do a bunch of extra court stuff and in practice I’m pretty much going through the whole practice, getting up and down with the guys, so I feel great.”
And he still looks lean and in the best shape since when he played for the Bulls. But he still won’t reveal his weight, saying, “It’s a small number.”
The next step is to turn it into big numbers on the court.