Trail Blazers vs Lakers Wednesday, 10/31/12 AT 07:30PM

Jared Jeffries And The Belief In A Dying Concept

10/26/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0


    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    It seems that there has been a major devaluation of veteran leadership over the past year. If you’re in the blogosphere or Twitter, you’ll see these opinions on how veteran presence is either overvalued or not important at all in today’s NBA. For them, it serves only as a narrative device rather than something that has actual value to an NBA team. The jokes range from Derek Fisher’s crunch time minutes for the Thunder in the Finals to the Knicks signing several players in their late 30s this offseason. However, for Portland and Jared Jeffries, it’s no joke.

    In Portland, Jeffries’ presence for this young Trail Blazers team, especially their young big men has been, in the words of head coach Terry Stotts, “invaluable.” When asked about whether he thought veteran presence has been devalued around the league, he first answered with a simple “no.”

    “I think the history of the NBA, Oklahoma City being an exception, that veteran teams are generally the top teams in the league,” says Stotts. “I don’t think there is any question that players who stay in the league stay in the league for a reason.”

    Jeffries, now the elder statesman on this Trail Blazers roster at age 30, has been in the Association for twelve seasons during which he has developed a reputation as a hard worker and defensive specialist. Coach Stotts credits him and guys like Ronnie Price and Sasha Pavolvic for helping the rest of his young team learn on the run. Jeffries’ impact has been very visible on this young Trail Blazers team, from the rookie bigs all the way to the team’s core.

    “Jared is a very smart player, he’s been in a lot of different situations, he’s seen everything that there is to see in the league,” says Stotts. “He’s been a great mentor for not only the rookies but for LaMarcus (Aldridge), the guys in positions of leadership, the LaMarcus, Nic (Batum) and Wes (Matthews).”

    “I took it on day one, I’m an outgoing person, I love the game, I love being around basketball,” said Jeffries on being the team’s elder statesman. “So, as soon as I got here, I took it on.”

    Jeffries and Coach Stotts coincidentally have the same birthday and went to the same high school in Bloomington, Indiana, albeit 24 years apart.

    “I’ve known him for a long time and coming into this, he said ‘I’m going to need a lot of your help to do this and do that’ and I embrace it,” says Jeffries.

    Before their game against Utah, Jeffries, along with Wesley Matthews, were going through drills to work on positioning and post defense with rookies Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard. They worked throughout the entire warm-up session. Towards the end of the game, when one of Utah’s many talented big men would line-up one-on-one against Freeland or Leonard, Jeffries was on the end of the bench standing excitedly to cheer on the young players and see if they were putting some of Jared’s tricks of the trade to good use.

    “It’s huge, especially to learn from every day, to see what (Jeffries) does on the court, how he plays defense,” said Freeland. “He was just telling me, because in Europe playing against the post players is different, because in Europe you’re not allowed to use your hands and here you can use your hands and that’s a huge advantage.”

    “Jared’s done a great job helping me along with LaMarcus, they’ve obviously been in the league a pretty long time,” said Leonard. “They’ve been through it, they know the right positions to be in, how to guard different guys and things like that so they’ve really helped me out.”

    “With a guy that’s big like Meyers, when everyone is as big as you are, it’s an adjustment,” says Jeffries on his help with the young big men.

    The fact that Jeffries is such a well-respected player and personality around the league is a testament to his work ethic. Jeffries does not have deep playoff runs under his belt nor does he have championship rings or individual accolades. His teams have gone no further than the second round of the playoffs, yet since joining the Trail Blazers, he has commanded respect by being himself, something that has certainly served him well over his twelve seasons in the NBA.

    “I just try to come into a situation and be myself and show guys how great this league is and make sure these guys all understand the opportunity we all have to play this game for a living and just enjoy it,” said Jeffries.

    Although his time so far in Portland has been short, he already has an appreciation for the type of atmosphere has developed within their locker room.

    “These guys all love it, it’s amazing being around a group of guys that are this young that play this hard every day in practice and in games.”

    Coming from someone who has seen a lot of young teams in his day, beginning with his early Wizards days, that comment is a welcome site for Trail Blazers fans.

    Of course, last year the Trail Blazers had a host of veterans and still ended the season with a losing record. However, this year’s squad resembles a balance of youth, players entering their primes and others who are known as workman veterans that have been in the league for several years.  

    “Those guys (Jeffries, Price, Pavlovic) have been in the league for a long time because they are quality citizens, they have great character and they are valuable because they are good team guys,” says Stotts.

    Although the Trail Blazers are young and talented, there is a learning curve that comes when players enter the league. On this team full of promise and youth, the veteran steadying hands of players like Jeffries can only help this team reach their potential.

    “When you have those kind of veterans on a young team, it makes the growth process that much quicker,” Stotts continued.

    With the growth process for rookies still in its early stages and the players in bigger leadership roles than before like Aldridge, Matthews and Batum, this team is still in its infancy. The Trail Blazers are not fully formed. They will be nurtured by the fire and rigors of an 82-game season for the first time in these new roles, for just about everyone.

    Nobody can dispute the NBA is driven by its stars, and sometimes young players come into the league thinking that is the only role worth playing. But after a dozen years in the league, Jeffries sees what he calls “the bigger picture.”

    “If you know that if you win basketball games, that’s the bigger picture. Winning is the ultimate goal in this league and that’s the ultimate test but there’s also improving and building your team, that’s what you have to do to be successful,” said Jeffries.

    Winning for this young Trail Blazers team will be no easy task early on in their formation. Stotts’ young bunch will have their ups and downs, but hopefully with the help of veterans like Jeffries, they’ll be able to take those bumps slowly and continue on in stride.  In Portland, there is still belief in the apparently dying concept of veteran leadership.

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