In a New York Knicks season lousy with sour notes and scapegoats, no player endured the kind of sustained animosity that befell point guard Raymond Felton—paragon, it so often seemed, of owner James Dolan’s caustic cupidity.
Unfairly, if Felton’s loyalty, which compelled him to sign with New York ahead of the 2012-13 season despite the trade that jaded him, should be believed.
Apparently, Phil Jackson has a different definition of fairness.
According to The Knicks Blog’s Adam Zagoria, Jackson informed Felton during a recent exit interview that the Knicks would look to deal the veteran point guard this offseason:
The Felton news should not be that surprising considering his on-court performance and off-court antics this past season.
Battling groin and hamstring injuries that caused him to miss 17 games, Felton averaged 9.7 points and 5.6 assists. His career averages are 13.1 points and 6.5 assists.
In February, one NBA executive told SNY.tv: ‘Felton is the worst starting point guard in the NBA. I’d take 10 college point guards and about 30 NBA backups over him right now.’
In February, Felton was arrested for allegedly pointing an unlicensed gun at his estranged wife, Ariane Raymondo-Felton, compounding what had been a nightmarish on-court campaign by him.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Jackson—the Zen Master himself—would seek to rid the Knicks of such karmic cancer.
Given New York’s precarious cap situation, however, that may be easier said than done.
What, then, might Jackson’s end game be? Will he seek to deal Felton for a draft-day pick or roster flotsam straight up? Or does New York’s new president of basketball operations intend to package his point guard along with other players—say, Iman Shumpert or Tyson Chandler?
One thing is for certain: In this, the Knicks’ renaissance-raring regime, no option—no matter how controversial or cupboard-cleaning—will be off the table.
Easier Said Than Done
Here’s how Bleacher Report’s Zack Buckley contextualized Jackson’s quixotic goal of dealing New York’s most damaged goods:
New York tried to move Felton ‘on several occasions’ before the Feb. 20 trade deadline, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, but nothing ever materialized. It’s hard to imagine Felton raised his stock in the 27 games since by posting 9.0 points per game on 38.8 percent shooting.
Short on potential sweeteners to facilitate a trade (young talent, draft considerations), New York’s first-time executive may soon discover what failed dieters have known for years: Wanting to trim fat is far easier than doing it.
Having been on the job for close to two months, Jackson surely understands the finer details of New York’s precarious cap situation—a ledger that pretty much precludes the kind of clean, one-for-one deal designed to make the Knicks better in the long run.
Might Jackson, then, have something more creative in mind?
If Jackson’s own remarks are to be believed, recalibrating the roster along more systemically coherent lines will be of the utmost importance. From Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin:
“I believe in system basketball,” Jackson said. “(Knicks GM) Steve Mills came out of Princeton. I came out of a system that we ran here in New York in which team basketball was an important aspect of playing. We believe that is what we want to accomplish here.”
That means any player—no matter how ostensibly valuable—could be rendered trade fodder.
One possible solution: Packaging Felton with another asset (say, Tyson Chandler or Iman Shumpert) in a multipiece or even a multiteam deal.
At the same time, any prospective trade wouldn’t necessarily have to entail the Knicks reeling in another floor general. Pablo Prigioni is more than capable of manning the point, and an argument can even be made for the veteran Argentine being a better fit in the triangle.
After all, if Derek Fisher and an aging Ron Harper proved anything, it’s that you don’t need to be Magic Johnson incarnate to succeed in Jackson’s famed offense.
Taking the Long View
One factor that could play heavily into whether or not the Knicks can effectively deal Felton is the fate of Carmelo Anthony, who is expected to forgo the final year of his contract and explore unrestricted free agency this summer.
Anthony’s destiny has been the subject of endless speculation—no need to rehash that here. If, however, Melo winds up walking, Jackson could find dealing Felton a much easier proposition, if only because New York’s inevitable rebuild would give it the cover necessary to pursue a long-term point guard through future drafts.
Indeed, if the recent rumor reported by ESPN New York’s Ian Begley linking the Knicks to soon-to-be-free agent Steve Blake is true, Jackson may already be clandestinely planning for this eventuality.
By signing Blake, the Knicks would be giving the strongest indication possible that they intend to employ a kind of point guard-by-committee approach.
Even if Anthony sticks around, however, Felton’s off-the-court issues could turn the above scenario from mere backup plan to a matter of strategic necessity.
A Tale of Two Courts
The last, perhaps least obvious recourse Jackson could pursue—if all else should fail—would be to waive Felton outright and use any subsequent trade to reel in a stopgap point guard.
Obviously, that would entail New York absorbing Felton’s $4.4 million salary next season, with the only silver lining being the opening of a new roster spot the Knicks would then have to fill—presumably with a point guard.
However, Jackson could opt for the nuclear option if Felton’s forthcoming trial proves too big a distraction for his already psychologically fragile team. That would leave New York scrambling to fill the backcourt void, either with Blake or another piece of free-agent flotsam.
Beyond the purely strategic concerns, there is one possibility we’ve thus far failed to broach: that this is all an elaborate play on the part of Jackson to put the psychological screws to New York’s embattled point guard.
This is the same Phil Jackson, after all, who was able to take Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest and not only transform their careers, but also completely recalibrate how we, the basketball-viewing public, perceived them.
Felton’s own nine-year journey has been an exercise in tempered extremes—from fine, productive play (his 2010-11 stint with the Knicks being perhaps the most sterling example) to bouts of embattled, inefficient floundering.
Knicks fans might be hoping training camp opens with a new point guard—be it Prigioni, Toure’ Murry or someone else entirely—manning the hardwood helm.
Even if that winds up being Felton, however, those fans can rest at least a little easier knowing Jackson’s resume of redemption runs as deep as it does.