HANG TIME, Texas — Nine months ago when Jeremy Lin was causing hysteria in New York, Raymond Felton was undergoing his own type of madness.
Things were intense, insufferable, intolerable for him in Portland as he chafed in coach Nate McMillan’s offense, got out of shape, discontented, discombobulated and had the most unsatisfying season of his NBA career.
That’s why it seemed hardly cause for celebration among Knicks fans last summer when the team surprised everyone by not matching Houston’s free agent offer to Lin and instead brought Felton back home to Madison Square Garden.
But now three weeks into the 2012-13 season, the role played by Felton in the — dare we say it, insanity? — of the Knicks’ blazing start cannot be underestimated.
While Carmelo Anthony deserves credit for be a ball-sharing leader, Jason Kidd for having a veteran’s hand on the rudder and Tyson Chandler for anchoring a solid defense, Felton has lifted his reputation out of mud and run the New York offense efficiently and effectively.
Sure, it was a decision that was about money. To match the contract offer Lin received from the Rockets would have cost the Knicks $45 million in the final season of the three-year deal when you factor in the luxury tax. Felton came for a total of $11 million for three years. But according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, he also came with something extra:
“What I bring to the game is just toughness,’’ Felton said. “That’s all. Just a guy whose going to bring it every night. You know what you’re going to get out of me every night. If I’m having a bad shooting night, you still know I’m going to play hard and get the job done in other ways.’’
Few fans wear Felton’s No. 2 jersey at the Garden, let alone in road cities, as was custom with Lin last winter. And Felton isn’t looking to trademark his “Duck’’ nickname — his whole family calls him that — anytime soon. In fact, Felton’s so humble, he didn’t have a Twitter account until this month. He has 11,112 followers — or 900,000 less than Lin.
“I think the first go-round he did in a Knick uniform has put him in a different light,’’ coach Mike Woodson said. “It’s a good feeling to come back and put it on again. He’s everything we asked as a point guard. He won in college and he’s had good years in the pros. We put the ball in his hands and trust [he] will make the right decisions.”
After being sent to Denver as part of the deal that brought Anthony to N.Y., Felton moved on to Portland last season in a marriage that was rocky from the start. His weight reportedly went up as high as 230 pounds and he was in and out of the Trail Blazers lineup as the starter at point guard and quickly became an object of scorn after another unsatisfying rebuilding season in Portland.
Now back with Knicks, he’s averaging 16.1 points and 6.3 assists per game, has his shooting back on track and is making a respectable 36.7 percent from behind the 3-point line. He’s also dialed in a connection with Chandler, tossing lob passes for dunks that has brought the Garden fans out of their seats, even if they aren’t experiencing a full-blown hysteria as they did over Lin. Just as important, he is a much better defender than Lin and that end of the court has been a calling card of the team’s quick start.
What’s more, Felton is back to being his old self, confident and willing to step up when needed. He popped in 25 points to go with his seven assists and outplayed Tony Parker in the fourth quarter in a statement win at San Antonio before the Knicks finally suffered their first loss of the season in seven games at Memphis on Friday night.
Never mind the old adage about not being able to go home again. Felton is way past that. Now he’s looking forward to a day-after-Thanksgiving matchup in Houston with Lin.
While it’s true that Felton’s return to the Knicks may not have caused a recurrent case of insanity, neither has it been inconsequential.