Monday, August 14, 2006

The desperation of Isiah Thomas is more pronounced than ever.

You could tell by his moment with Jared Jeffries last week.

Thomas proclaimed Jeffries to be the elixir that would resolve the rag-tag dimension of the Knicks.

“What Jared brings to us more so than talent, he brings chemistry,” Thomas said.

Jeffries also brings an unsettling number of rim-busting layup attempts.

This proclivity is not helpful to team chemistry or to a team’s points on the scoreboard.

Thomas was peddling a feel-good fantasy — with Jeffries cast as Superman Lite — because that is all he has left with his wreck of a franchise.

The next transaction in Manhattan that encourages talk of an upgrade will be the one detailing his departure.

MSG chairman James Dolan has granted Thomas a season to show progress, but that is being overly sanguine.

Thomas is where Stan Van Gundy was at this time last year, probably one protracted losing streak away from his next venture, most likely in a talking head capacity.

No basketball person of sane mind can be impressed with Thomas’ stints with the Raptors, the Continental Basketball Association and the Knicks.

He might be able to spot talent, with Tracy McGrady being his best find, but he has no idea how to pull it all together.

His cure for all organizational ails is to spend money and more money. The Knicks are paying double the dollar amount of Jeffries’ contract because of the luxury tax.

Jeffries is lot of things on a basketball court, some of them even positive, but he is hardly an essential part to a team looking to be a playoff contender.

This is why, in the end, after wrestling with the value of Jeffries since May, the Wizards had no choice but to let the offensively challenged one go to the Knicks.

It is not as if Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan did not recognize the defensive versatility of Jeffries. It is not as if they did not value his presence in the locker room.

But a number of developments adjusted their thinking as the summer progressed: the drafting of Oleksiy Pecherov, the impressive play of Andray Blatche in the NBA’s summer leagues and the signings of both Darius Songaila and DeShawn Stevenson.

The return of Jarvis Hayes also contributed to the notion that Jeffries’ playing time would become more specialized in the manner of Michael Ruffin.

Neither Pecherov nor Blatche necessarily figures prominently in the immediate plans of the Wizards. But both players promise to be factors over what would have been the life of Jeffries’ contract, a five-year, $30-million deal.

It was not too hard to envision Jeffries eventually becoming the eighth or ninth player in the team’s rotation in the seasons ahead, which prompted the Wizards not to retain his services at the overinflated price.

Jeffries, no dummy, could see where his career was heading on Fun Street, which explained his agent instructing the Wizards not to match the offer.

Yet Jeffries casting his lot with Thomas is as risky as Larry Hughes running off to Cleveland to be a caddy for LeBron James.

Jeffries is taking up with someone whose shelf life is nearly expired. He probably will find, as Hughes did, that those offseason smiles easily turn into scowls once the season is under way.

And if Jeffries really believes he is going to have a larger role in an offense suffocated by the dribble-happy presence of Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis, his thought process is as flawed as his shooting touch.

Thomas, as coach, probably will be able to improve the performance level of the Knicks to a degree because his interpersonal skills with the players will be significantly better than Larry Brown’s.

Mostly, though, Thomas and the Knicks are awaiting another bad ending.

At least Jeffries will have $30 million to help him through the tumult.

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