Raymond Felton loves playing in New York. He loves the fans, Madison Square Garden and the expectations that come with wearing the jersey of the New York Knicks. He embraced New York when the team was in transition during the summer of 2010 when he signed a two-year contract with the franchise. The reaction wasn’t great initially as fans were expecting to witness the start of the LeBron James-era in New York. Felton was seen as a consolation prize because the Knicks failed in free agency.
Felton was widely seen as the best player remaining after the max contract dominoes fell and the first step in a contingency plan that would see the Knicks acquire Chris Paul, the star point guard most people believed would sign with the team in the summer of 2012.
Felton walked into a crazy situation.
He was essentially a band-aid for an organization that didn’t seem sold on his ability or long-term future with the team. They knew Felton could play, but at the time only needed him to be a placeholder for Chris Paul. Anything great that happened along the way was a bonus.
Felton, however had different plans for his time with New York. He never allowed himself to be distracted by the talk of Chris Paul or LeBron James; those things weren’t in his control. The only thing Felton controlled was his performance and he made sure that’s what he focused on. Felton let his game do the talking; it didn’t take long for people to hear him.
Felton played extraordinarily well for the Knicks. He turned critics into advocates that applauded how well he was playing (17.1 points and 9.0 assists per game) for his new team. He quickly became a fan favorite and the Knicks were solid for the first time in years.
The business of basketball, however, would cut Felton’s time in New York short.
Carmelo Anthony wanted to play for the Knicks and Felton was one of the pieces that could facilitate a blockbuster trade. And just like that, Felton’s time with New York was done.
Stops in Denver and Portland didn’t go as well for Felton. Many times he looked like a frustrated guard that was stuck in a system that didn’t fit his skills. Then there were whispers that the 28-year-old guard was out of shape, which made people believe the Mike D’Antoni’s system, not Felton’s skills, were the reason for his success with New York. It was hard to determine what was going on with Felton, but many were in agreement that he was on the decline.
The business of basketball, however, came calling again in 2012 and Felton found his way back to the Knicks. This time Felton isn’t in a situation where he needs to worry about trades or potential free agents. He signed a three-year contract and has been put back in his starting role. He’s helped lead the team to their best start in years, which is a bonus for a guy that just wanted to return to New York.
“I love New York and never wanted to leave,” Felton said. “Being back here and having the success we’re having puts a big smile on my face.”
Nobody in New York is surprised with how well Felton has played. In fact, it was something most of the organization expected. The shortened 11-12 season was a challenge for most players. The uncertainty surrounding the labor negotiations led many players to believe there wouldn’t be a season. Felton was one of the guys that didn’t play his best basketball, but Mike Woodson and the Knicks’ front office knew Felton would return to form if they brought him back.
“He was excited when we called this summer and asked him to come back,” Woodson said. “This summer he put in a lot of time this summer trying to get ready for vet camp. I’m not surprised he’s playing well. He’s hungry and wants to help lead this team. He’s done an excellent job so far.”
Felton has played like a man with something to prove. He’s playing with an edge that his teammates have noticed and learned to appreciate. He never wanted to leave New York and he’s doing all he can to make sure everyone knows how much he loves being back.
“He has a chip on his shoulder and I love that about him,” Anthony said. “He gets up every night, even in practice, and you can tell he’s playing with an extra spark out there.”
The spark Anthony mentioned was something the Knicks needed.
The Knicks were expected to take a step this season; first round exits are no longer good enough. Those expectations, however, took a hit when it was announced that Amare Stoudemire would miss extended time with a knee injury. The Knicks needed someone to step up and Felton answered has answered the call.
“He’s so important to our success,” Tyson Chandler said. “I think he’s showing he’s one of the best in the league at his position. Raymond played incredible the year he was here; I think he had one of his best seasons. Now he’s showing guys what he’s able to do.”
The things Felton can do have made people forget about Jeremy Lin and the hysteria that surrounded his rise to fame last season. Still, the pressure of being the Knicks’ starting point guard in a year they’re expected to win at least one playoff series comes with lofty expectations.
Felton won’t run away from the pressure. In fact, he welcomes the challenges and expects to himself and his team to be victorious.
“There is pressure to play in New York no matter what,” Felton said. “At the same time I love it here. Pressure or no pressure; I don’t really care. I’m just happy to be in a Knicks jersey and happy to be with this team; this is a great group of guys.”