The New York Knicks flourished for much of the 2010-11 season with Raymond Felton running the point. He was in sync with marquee free-agent acquisition Amar'e Stoudemire, running an "unguardable" pick-and-roll and assisting STAT to a franchise record nine straight 30-point games (via Newsday).
In his 54 games with the Knicks, Felton posted the best numbers of his career, averaging 17.1 points, 9.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He even shot 86.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Then Felton was included in the trade for Carmelo Anthony. His numbers declined in 21 games with Denver, and he was traded to Portland during the 2011 NBA draft.
Shortly thereafter, the NBA owners locked out the players and placed the 2011-12 season in jeopardy. After much hand wringing, the lockout was ended in December and a shortened 66-game season began on Christmas.
Felton showed up to Trail Blazers camp overweight. Portland struggled to a 28-38 record, and he averaged just 11.4 points, a career low.
Speaking to Nate Taylor of the New York Times, Felton's agent, Tony Dutt, claimed that the weight was related to "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."
Felton also admitted that he was out of shape last season, but laid the blame solely on himself, not the lockout. He told Tim Bontemps of the NY Post in July: “I wasn’t at the weight I normally [am]. I am the first one to say, ‘I wasn’t in shape.’ I don’t make no excuses, I don’t blame anyone else."
While it's heartening that Felton accepted the full blame for not being in shape last season, it is unacceptable for a professional athlete to fail to be in peak physical condition. Notwithstanding the lockout, it imputes a laziness on the part of Felton and constitutes a dereliction of his contractual obligation.
Age is not a factor, as Felton was only 27 years old last season. He salary for 2011-12 was $7,560,000. Perhaps a portion of that salary should be donated to charities that combat obesity.
But having that chastisement out of the way, Felton's admission is ultimately a good sign for the Knicks.
Not only were they able to acquire Felton at a discount (he will make $3,480,453 in 2012-13), but they bring in a player with tremendous motivation to succeed back to the site of his greatest success.
As Felton told the NY Post: "I am hearing from everybody, ‘He wasn’t in shape last year.’ I played in the league seven years, about to be eight, came in out of shape one year and that’s all everybody wants to talk about. … I look forward to this year and shutting up everybody’s mouth.”
Felton sounds mad about all the fat jokes, and he is clearly eager to prove his doubters wrong.
As he told Ian Begley of ESPN New York: "I'm in shape now, ready to go and I've got a big, big chip on my shoulder. So I look forward to this season and I'm definitely happy to be back in this New York Knicks jersey."
Felton has come into training camp this year with gusto. He participated in voluntary workouts with Jason Kidd and others in Greenburgh, N.Y., prior to the start of training camp. Multiple sources at the workouts confirmed that Felton "looks great," and appears to be ready to return to the All-Star form that Knicks fans saw in 2010 (per Ian Begley).
Felton also sounds eager to play on the same team with Carmelo. He appears fully prepared to run the star-studded offense with authority. When interviewed by HOOPSWORLD at the 2012 Las Vegas Summer League, he was asked about playing with Melo and Stoudemire. He responded:
I bring a guy that's a dog, a guy that's, you know, that's not afraid of neither one of them. A guy that, you know, if they get mad or get upset, I'm able to sit there and tame that. Let those guys know that, look, I'm a get y'all the ball, I'm a run this team, you know, y'all gonna get your shots.
Between the Knicks' wealth of offensive weapons, Felton's veteran experience and the chance to be under the tutelage of future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, he is poised to have his finest season yet.
And he has already started strong out of the gate in preseason. In the Knicks' first exhibition game on October 11, a 108-101 victory over Washington, Felton dished out four assists in the first quarter and finished with eight for the night.
Following the Knicks' 98-95 overtime win against the Celtics on October 13, KnicksNow.com writer Jonah Bellow detailed Felton's successful night:
Raymond Felton went toe-to-toe with Rajon Rondo, finishing with seven points, seven assists, and six boards. Throughout the first half, Felton penetrated the opposing defense and tossed high alley-oops to Chandler for easy two-hand slams. The chemistry between the backcourt and frontline members continued to grow in the second exhibition outing this week.
Felton appears rejuvenated and able to hang with an elite point guard like Rondo. That's good to know, as Rondo has torched the Knicks several times in recent memory (15 points, 11 rebounds and 20 assists in Game 3 of the 2011 playoffs; 18 points, 17 rebounds and 20 assists on March 4 last season).
Felton possesses the chops to run the point, chemistry with the current roster—he played with Stoudemire on the Knicks, Marcus Camby in Portland, Tyson Chandler in Charlotte and J.R. Smith in Denver—and a feisty attitude befitting any true New Yorker.
He appears to have his sights set firmly on team success. Only this season, he has the physical conditioning to deliver on that team-first determination.
Last season, Portland beat future Western Conference champs Oklahoma City in an early-season contest. Felton criticized opposing point guard Russell Westbrook for playing without the proper team mentality (via Yahoo! Sports):
That's the type of guy he is, that's his mindset, that's how he plays…He's always in a one-on-one battle with all the point guards. I'm not really into that. I'm into winning. If you win, everybody gets the praises. We are not wearing "Felton" on the front of our jerseys; it says "Blazers." I care about the Blazers winning.
This season, it says "New York" on the front of Felton's jersey. All he cares about now is the Knicks winning, and he looks prepared to make good on that resolution.