Raymond Felton is one happy point guard
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Raymond Felton was smiling, as he often does these days, when I asked just what it is about playing for the Knicks that seems to transform both his game and his disposition.
"I don't know. Maybe I just love New York," the point guard of the past, present and at least immediate future said. "I just love being in a New York Knicks jersey. It's been great, man.
"Both times I was here, I had great teammates and great coaches and it was just fun and it worked out for me. I had two coaches who their system works for my game, two coaches who believed in me."
Those coaches, Mike D'Antoni and Mike Woodson, are not much alike, but they did and do know what to do with Felton, whose crooked path stands out even on a latter-day redeem team of players with something to prove.
Most recently, Felton spent another night tormenting the Rajon Rondo-free Celtics on Friday night en route to 15 points, 10 assists, two steals and a blocked shot, just for the heck of it.
Even before Game 3, Celtics coach Doc Rivers had said, "You can make the case that the guy who's been the most important to them in this series has been Raymond Felton."
Fans old enough to recall 2010 might remember when Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire seemed poised to pick-and-roll the Knicks into a bright new era.
But then he was gone, off to the Nuggets in the deal that brought Anthony to New York in early 2011. He backed up Ty Lawson in Denver, then spent an unhappy season with the Trail Blazers, out of shape and out of sync, while Jeremy Lin became an international sensation in his old spot.
You know what happened next. Lin left, Felton returned and suddenly it was 2010 all over again, but with a new coach, a new superstar partner in Melo and a new outlook.
Well, not entirely. He has kept the chip on his shoulder for motivational reference.
"Oh, definitely," he said. "I try not to talk about myself. I give a lot of praise to my teammates and others around me, but the chip on my shoulder is still there, for sure."
Felton, 28, does not lack confidence on or off the court, and he did acknowledge the obvious:
"No question, it has been one of my best years running the team," he said. Why? "Experience, years, confidence from your coach, having a great support cast, having a great mentor like Jason Kidd. It's a lot of things."
Said Kidd: "Ray's grown as a player from training camp to today when you look at him running the show with Pablo [Prigioni], understanding what the team needs at the right time. That's what a point guard does."
In this series, there have been times that Felton drove the lane with such ease that he had to be shocked by his good fortune. He said having so many effective shooters around him opens things up.
"When I come off a screen- and-roll and I have a guy one-on-one, they can't hop off those guys, so it's just me and him between the basket," Felton said. "It gives me a chance to get by my man and get to the rack."
In his spare time, Felton has played a pivotal role guarding the Celtics' bigger, more accomplished Paul Pierce.
On paper, this is what Felton should be doing, given that he was the fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft, behind a couple of decent point guards named Deron Williams and Chris Paul. But even among Lin doubters, few thought he was a no-brainer to replace him.
Now it is difficult to imagine what the Knicks would look like with Lin still at the helm rather than Felton.
"It's great," Felton said earlier in the series. "I was sad I left the first time. Things happen, I am back, it has been great and I am loving every moment of it."