DALLAS -- The minutes have been few and far between for Raymond Felton, but he has earned the respect of his teammates this season.
A lot of 10-year veterans with the pedigree of Felton, a former fifth overall pick who has been a starter virtually his whole career, would have responded to riding the pine on a regular basis by pouting. Felton just kept putting in work, preparing in case the Dallas Mavericks needed him.
That time has arrived. Suddenly, the Mavs’ guard depth has dwindled, with Monta Ellis (calf) and J.J. Barea nursing injuries. The Mavs have lost three of four games since Felton joined the rotation, but he’s filled in well, scoring 19 points in 40 minutes, during which the Mavs have outscored opponents by eight points.
“He’s a high-integrity guy. He really is,” said coach Rick Carlisle, who cited Felton's full-court defensive pressure for changing the momentum in the Mavs' comeback win over the Spurs last week. “He’s a high-integrity competitor. There hasn’t been one time this year where he’s dropped his head or pouted. When he was hurt, when he came back and there weren’t minutes right away, he’s just remained consistently professional and he kept working extremely hard, which shows now that he’s getting an opportunity to play.”
Felton has played in only 24 games this season, logging a total of 171 minutes. He suffered a serious high ankle sprain during the preseason that sidelined him for several weeks of the regular season and aggravated it after serving a four-game suspension stemming from a guilty plea to New York gun charges during his tumultuous final season with the Knicks.
Once Felton finally got healthy, there was no room for him in the Mavs’ rotation, with Devin Harris and Barea getting all the backup guard minutes.
“When you go down with an injury and you’ve got other guys who play at the same level you play, sometimes you lose your spot,” Felton said. “That’s kind of what happened. It’s just something I had to deal with. I’m on a good team with a lot of good guards, so I just had to deal with that fact. Just gotta keep working hard, stay the course and then when your number is called, be ready to go.
“It’s been tough, man. It’s been my first time having a major injury like that, so that’s the most I had to deal with, dealing with that and being hurt and not able to be out there and compete and help my team out. Then coming back, it was just something I was already expecting. You can’t come back like that and jump into a rotation after being out two or three months. That’s tough.”
Carlisle considers it a luxury to have a fifth guard with the experience of Felton, who has 613 starts and averages of 12.7 points and 6.3 assists in his career. Of course, it could have been an issue if Felton chose to grumble about not getting playing time.
But Felton has been the epitome of a professional, which is why he’s so popular among his teammates.
“He’s been a starter in this league for a long, long time,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “I actually have got to give him credit. He’s been a true pro. He hasn’t complained one bit when he hasn’t played. He comes in and works hard every single day -- lifts, shoots, runs, does all the extra work and stayed ready. This was his opportunity, and he stepped in and I thought he’s given us some good minutes.”
Added Chandler Parsons: “He’s a veteran guy, been a great teammate and worked extremely hard all year long. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be ready whenever coach calls on him and gives him the opportunity.”