Felton’s return, in a three-year deal that will pay him $10 million, helped set the stage for the departure of 23-year-old Jeremy Lin, a sensation at point guard last season who on Tuesday was headed to Houston with a contract that the Knicks decided was too costly to match.
Lin’s departure leaves Felton and Jason Kidd, 39, essentially running the Knicks’ offense in 2012-13. But even if Lin were around, said Felton’s agent, Tony Dutt, his client deserved to be the starter.
“My gut is, with or without Jeremy, I think Raymond is the better point guard,” Dutt said earlier this week. “I think he’ll be the starter regardless.
“He wants to get back to playing at a star level,” Dutt added. “He’s extremely happy about New York.”
But happy is not the word to describe Felton’s experiences in Portland last season with a team that went 28-38. Dutt acknowledged that Felton was overweight when he joined the Trail Blazers, citing the uncertainty produced by last year’s lockout, which delayed the season for nearly two months and left players wondering when, and if, they would get back on the court.
In 54 games with the Knicks in 2010-11, before he was traded to Denver in the deal that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York, Felton averaged 17.1 points, 9 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 38.4 minutes. After a bit of an awkward phase-in, he learned to click with Amar’e Stoudemire, then the Knicks’ go-to scorer, and benefited from then-coach Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system.
Compare Felton’s Knicks numbers with those he compiled in Portland: 11.4 points, 6.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 31.8 minutes. Everything was down, except Felton’s weight.
It did not help, either, that Felton was inevitably caught up in the unhappiness surrounding Trail Blazers Coach Nate McMillan, who was fired after the Knicks humiliated Portland, 121-79, at Madison Square Garden on March 14.
Felton was Portland’s starting point guard that night; Lin was the starting point guard for the Knicks, but played only 23 minutes because the game was so one-sided.
Games like that hardly made Felton popular with Portland fans. Late in the season, Portland’s team president, Larry Miller, said bluntly of Felton: “When we brought Ray in, we thought we were getting the Ray Felton we saw throughout his career. Unfortunately, and I don’t fault Ray, it just hasn’t worked out.”
Wesley Matthews, a three-year veteran who played with Felton in Portland last season and remains with the team, said Felton had difficulty playing in McMillan’s system.
“We started off saying we wanted to run; then we stopped running and then we wanted to run again,” Matthews said in Las Vegas this week at the Trail Blazers’ summer league camp. “Between lineup changes and personalities, it was just a mess.”
But Matthews said he was confident that Felton would rebound in New York and be the player he was two years ago.
“He does a lot of things that don’t get noticed,” Matthews said. “He’s a genuine point guard who can find people, and he picks and chooses very well.”
Echoing that sentiment was guard Nolan Smith, a Portland rookie last season. He, too, was in Las Vegas and said that he had talked in recent weeks with Felton, who had said that he wanted to play only in New York.
“He’s going to have a big season,” Smith said.
Dutt said, “He’s going to be the starter.”
They may be right. But for now, a bad season in Portland still lingers in the background, something Felton will have to work to overcome.