- Ian O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer
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NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks told Raymond Felton they were getting rid of him the very minute they signed him. The contract covered a mere two seasons, making Felton nothing more than a rented tux to be returned in the summer of 2012.
He was hired to be fired, and Felton understood the terms of engagement when he signed the papers.
"It's a business, man," he said as he was lacing his dress shoes Wednesday night.
A lucrative business, yet one that can be unforgiving and cold.
"I wanted play in New York and I wanted to play in this system," Felton said. "So I took the deal."
You know, protect the ball, play some defense, throw some alleys for Amare Stoudemire's oops.
Only on another December night in 2010, Felton did not look like anyone's idea of a stand-in. The kid who played his high school ball in South Carolina and his college and pro ball in North Carolina hardened his standing as the best quarterback in New York.
Felton took 25 points and 11 assists into the final possession of a 110-110 game with the Toronto Raptors, with the Madison Square Garden crowd standing and chanting for the Knicks' sixth straight victory and 11th in 12 tries. The point guard had 20 at the half, and had missed seven of his eight shots across the third and fourth quarters.
His coach, Mike D'Antoni, didn't bother to call a timeout, just like he wouldn't have bothered to call a timeout with the ball in Steve Nash's hands. Felton had earned that kind of faith, even if his touch had deserted him somewhere between the first half and the second.
D'Antoni knew Felton would make the right decision on the screen-and-roll with Stoudemire, who was already good for 34 points, 26 of them in the second half. The quarterback was expected to pass. Stoudemire had delivered his sixth straight game of 30 or more points, a streak Patrick Ewing and Bernard King never managed for the Knicks.
But when Felton and Stoudemire did their thing, the Raptors decided to take their chances with the little man rather than the big. Felton stepped back behind the 3-point line. "I saw an opening," he said, "and so I took the shot."
The shot wasn't pure, but then again, almost nothing about Felton is pure. He doesn't have the long limbs or explosive, athletic stride of the modern-day point guard, the Russell Westbrooks and Derrick Roses.
Felton has a fire hydrant body and a herky jerky game. Anyone can see why the Charlotte Bobcats might quit on him, even if the league is full of stars who were run out of Larry Brown's town.
Wednesday night, Felton had no right to take the big shot, not with Stoudemire playing better than anyone in the world, and not with the Garden crowd already chanting for the Knicks' center to be named league MVP.
"I don't care if I miss [shots] the whole game," Felton said. "If the opportunity comes down to take the shot, I'm going to take it."
He took the 3-pointer, and the ball bounced once or twice off the south side of the Eighth Avenue rim, kissed the backboard, and bounced a couple of more times along the iron before finally falling through.
"It was bouncing and bouncing," Felton said, "and I was just praying and praying and praying and, 'Thank you, Jesus,' it went in. It was a great shot, a good win."
The Garden crowd partied like it was 1999. Toronto's Andrea Bargnani launched a 3 over Felton for the tie, and the air ball left him with 41 points instead of 44.
Felton and Stoudemire fell into an embrace at midcourt. They spent most of the night running picks and rolls at the same level Nash and Stoudemire had run them in Phoenix.
"Steve Nash is one of the greatest point guards who ever played the game," Felton said, "and to even be mentioned with him is an honor. We're two different players, but we both played in the same system and I'm going to get that comparison all the time."
Felton paused at his locker. "But it's not a bad thing," he added.
Especially when you're putting up All-Star numbers for a 14-9 team.
Asked if he could've ever expected this from Felton, D'Antoni said, "In the summertime you can dream, and I was hoping. I didn't have the slightest idea. I just knew from relationships and people who knew [Felton] that the guy had a big heart and he was a winner, and that's what we went on."
The Knicks went with it because they needed to spend all that free-agent money LeBron wouldn't take. Theirs was a turbulent honeymoon. Felton started out 3-8, and couldn't find Stoudemire through the small openings Nash always found.
"People, results, were coming down on us literally," D'Antoni said. "He just wasn't daunted. He just did it. That's all heart, and that's all him."
Wednesday night, Felton singlehandedly kept the Knicks in the game in the first half. He came back around on that final, fateful possession, when his winning shot bounced across all five boroughs before it dropped through the net.
A city with a deep, romantic connection to its point guards is falling hard for Felton, who doesn't want this relationship to end any time soon.
"I love it so much here," he said at his locker, "and I hope it happens that I stay beyond . But right now I'm just going to enjoy what I've got."
Right now, Raymond Felton's got the New York Knicks. He doesn't plan on giving them back.
4dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann