Because we’re sentimental bastids, Kevin McElroy and I are teaming up on a three-part series talking about the Denver Four/Minny Two, as they shall heretofore be known. We’ll look back fondly (and at times, not so fondly) at the careers of the sextet of ‘Bockers that were summarily dispatched to the Rocky Mountains. No analysis of the merits of the trade, mind you (I think that dead horse has been soundly beaten), just nostalgia and sweet/semi-sweet farewells
To start, two of the shortest-tenured Knicks, Raymond Felton (via Kevin) and Anthony Randolph (via Robert)…
What a strange little Knicks’ career Raymond Felton had; a roller coaster of fan approval and disapproval surpassing what most players experience in far longer periods of time than the six months that Felton wore orange and blue. He arrived on the coattails of Amar’e Stoudemire, was acquired with a piece of the “second free agent” cap room cleared by the now infamous Jared Jeffries trade and intended for a player of twice Felton’s fame and talent. So that couldn’t have been easy. Luckily for him, Knicks’ fans suddenly realized that he was replacing frequent (and justified) scapegoat Chris Duhon, and thus provided an even larger positional upgrade than the one that Amar’e represented over David Lee. Felton shot the lights out in November, averaged double digit assists in December, and put up averages of 20.4 points, 9.4 assists, and a .536 effective field goal% during the 13-1 stretch that pushed the Knicks into the upper half of the Eastern Conference for the first time in years. In the midst of that run came Ray’s finest moment as a Knick, an ugly, bouncing, rolling, buzzer-beating three that spent about 3 seconds on the rim and ultimately sealed a 113-110 win for the Knicks over the Raptors on December 8. Felton had 28 points and 11 assists on 20 shots in the game – not at all an atypical line for him at the time. NBA fans around the country discussed Felton’s all-star candidacy while Knicks fans contemplated whether he was the best facilitator the team had employed since Mark Jackson. It seemed like an impossibly good signing.
As it turned out, it was. Impossible, that is. In exactly 30 games since the end of the Knicks 13-1 stretch, Felton maintained respectable averages of 15.5 points and 9.0 assists, but did so at a far less efficient clip, racking up an effective field goal % of only .440 and shooting under 30% from downtown. These shooting numbers are reminiscent of the player that Felton was before this season, and Knicks fans (and bloggers) blamed him as much as anyone for the team’s stagnation since mid-December. In a sort of Bizarro version of his aforementioned buzzer beater against the Raptors, he missed a jumper in the fading seconds of a tie game on January 22 in Oklahoma City, declining to get the ball to Amar’e or a red-hot Danilo Gallinari and leaving enough time for a Kevin Durant game-winner at the other end. For many, the shot (and the shooter’s unapologetic postgame reaction) confirmed the suspicion that Felton had interpreted his early-season shooting improvement as justification for him to become a score-first guard. And since he wasn’t scoring efficiently, this was not a good thing.
Felton currently sits eighth in the league in minutes per game (38.4) and I think there’s some reason to believe that, like Chris Duhon before him, Felton’s hot start couldn’t stand up to the strain put on his body by a coach who leans on his starting point guards for minutes that aren’t easy to handle if you’re not Steve Nash. Here is where I am a bit worried that we will grow to miss Felton. Without a backup point guard approximating the quality of Ty Lawson, the 34-year-old Chauncey Billups is sure to be asked to step up his playing time from an average of 32 minutes to somewhere near the level required of Felton before him. While Billups is the superior player, will the Knicks truly be better at the point guard position if 1) Billups is asked to increase his minutes at the risk of wearing himself out or 2) Toney Douglas plays more minutes at the point, off-setting some of the presumed upgrade the Knicks will enjoy during Billups’ time on the floor? The answer could well be “yes;” I could be underestimating Douglas’ improvement or Billups’ resilience, but we can’t necessarily pencil in 38 minutes of PG production that far exceed Felton’s output.
Of course, the job of Knicks point guard is likely about to get a whole lot easier than the one Felton had, with much of the offense running through Carmelo Anthony and the point guard confined for stretches to the role of spot-up shooter. This suits both Billups and Douglas just fine. And it underscores the difference between those players and Felton, who was always better when trying to create for others than when trying to be the Knicks second option on offense.
So we close the book on an unusual Knicks career, feeling like we improved ourselves at the point guard position and thankful that Felton’s sub-par outside shooting is going the way of Anthony Randolph’s basketball IQ and Timofey Mozgov’s haircut – which is to say, out of New York. But Felton was a big part of the reason we’ve had so much fun with this year’s Knicks. I have a feeling we will always have fond memories of the young Knicks squad that brought respectability back to MSG for the first 54 games of the 2010-11 season, and Felton — pushing the tempo, learning to mesh with Amar’e, finding shooters for open looks all over the perimeter, and playing miles over his head for 6 glorious weeks — was the key to that team’s ignition. If he had a fault, it was that he was too willing to put up shots that he simply couldn’t make at the rate that we all hoped he could. This was most frustrating when he did it in the clutch, with more efficient scorers on the court with him. But on the heels of an era defined by passivity and indifference, we should be so lucky as to have too many guys who wanted to come up big when it matters.
Potential. It’s one of the most damning words in the OED. And Anthony Randolph had (has) potential that seemingly clawed out of every inch of his 6’11” frame (and 7’5” wingspan!). As the 14th pick in the Gallinari draft, Randolph was a bit of a wild-card. Some dared to invoke the names “Stromile Swift” and “Tyrus Thomas”, two other springy, lengthy LSU Freshman entrees who never harnessed all their ridiculous upside after they turned pro. In fact, Walsh (according to reports) was ready to take AR at 6 if Gallo hadn’t been there. (Walsh clearly has a predilection for young, bouncy, skinny-as-a-mofo PF/C’s like Jonathan Bender and Jermaine O’Neal). For his first two years in sunny Oakland, Anthony Randolph became a youtube star and if possible, even more of an enigma. Roundball luminaries such as Bill Simmons called him a future 25-10-5 guy.
He’s one of the most breathtaking rookies I’ve seen in person — ever — for all the reasons you just described. There has never been anyone quite like him. He’s like a cross between Josh Smith and Lamar Odom, only if you fed him 10 Red Bulls and told him right before the game, “If you can make 10 things happen during the 10 minutes you play tonight, we will quadruple your salary and you will start for the rest of the season” … and then he does just that, but the coach reneges on the promise so Anthony has a near-crying meltdown on the bench. That’s every Anthony Randolph game. I caught him once and, in the span of two hours, he made three “MY GOD!” plays and broke down on the Warriors’ bench because Nellie wouldn’t put him back in, followed by an assistant consoling him through an entire timeout like Randolph was a third grader who got in trouble for something he didn’t do, then had a meltdown and got kicked out of class. It was riveting. The odds of me missing another Clips-Warriors game for the next five years are 10,000-to-1
But he clearly forgot that it was his turn to buy Don Nelson his case of Bud before a game or something, because Donnie kept him firmly planted in Chez Chien (when AR wasn’t injured, that is). After all, when you go flying around like that and weigh 200 lbs. sopping wet, one can tend to get injured. He also developed a rep for being a bit of a pouter, once seemingly breaking down into tears upon being benched (see above quote)
So when the word was given that he’d been traded to NY for KB fave David Lee, with a coach who seemed perfectly suited to take advantage of his open-court skills, the “potential”/expectations millstone reared its ugly head again. Really, go watch the clip again and tell me you don’t think he could be Marcus Camby 2.0, down to the eerie parallels of a young, untapped talent who was traded for a beloved vet PF. But yeah, that certainly didn’t happen.
During training camp, Hahn and others hinted that he wasn’t really impressing and and when the season started, he was…much as it pains me to say…awful. He still rebounded the basketball like a fiend, but his court IQ was at Jerome Jamesian levels. Plus, after any gaffe you could see him shoot a look towards the bench to see if he was about to get yanked. He looked like a much more athletic but just as ineffective Jared Jeffries. (Yes – invoking two of Zeke’s worst signings in the same paragraph is never a good thing when discussing a player’s merits). D’Antoni (like clockwork) shortened his rotation in late Nov. and suddenly, AR was getting splinters in his bony tuchus riding the pine and amassing a swell collection of DNP-CD’s.
Some (like your humble correspondent) held out hope that AR would develop and start to contribute but alas, as of Tuesday, it ain’t happening here. I still (perhaps misguidedly) think that he’s going to be a very serviceable big down the road. Maybe this shrinking violet will come full flower in Minny, where they’ve developed a rep for turning around (sort of) weird head cases/tortured artists/tragic figures like Messrs. Beasley and Milicic. Perhaps he’ll never figure it out. But that’s the thing about potential, doesn’t thinking about AR and his misspent youth make you well, sad? Or at least melancholy in the “Ode to an Athlete Dying Young” sense. And if there’s any truth to Buddhist philosophy, it seems borne out in Anthony Randolph — you could tell that he wanted oh-so-badly to do well and that his desire clearly impeded his ability to do just that. Whatever the true cause, you could tell that his failures caused him much personal suffering. It’s not that he didn’t give a crap — he did and that (at least for me) makes it tragic that he wasn’t able to achieve what both he and we the fans wanted. So, that’s how I’ll remember AR, his long face and longer body glued to the end of the bench, often the only player not to get giddy at a great play (consider him the anti-Ronny Turiaf, if you will) dripping with potential, all of it, sadly, going to waste.