This week, 14-year NBA veteran Raymond Felton was a guest on The HoopsHype Podcast. He discussed his NBA career, his free agency, how much longer he wants to play, his concerns about the NBA resuming the season, whether he’s open to signing overseas and more. Listen to the interview above or read a transcribed version of the Q&A below.
You won an NCAA championship at UNC alongside Rashad McCants, Sean May and Marvin Williams among others. That team was so much fun to watch and then all four of you were lottery picks in the 2005 NBA Draft. What was it like to be part of that championship team?
Raymond Felton: Ah, man, it was fun. We went through a lot together. Our freshman year, we went to the NIT and Sean May got hurt – he broke his foot. We went from making the NIT to winning a championship. It was a journey for us. It’s something that we worked really hard for and we just continued to get better each and every year. In our junior year, we really put it all together along with Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel, Melvin Scott and others. Those guys were there as well and they played a big, vital part in us winning that title.
You spent three years at UNC. Now, many players enter the NBA after just one year in college. Do you think some players would benefit from staying in college longer?
RF: Yes, I think it gives you time to mature and gives you time to learn the game a lot more than coming straight out of high school and going into the big leagues. I don’t think a year [is enough]. I think two years is a good amount of time for a kid to develop and learn how to be on his own and be a professional and be his own person. And, at the same time, they’re continuing to get better and learning the game. You learn so much in college and those basics will help you when you get to the league.
Of all the teams that you’ve played on, which team was the closest or had the best chemistry?
RF: I played on a lot of teams that had great chemistry. That [2012-13] Knicks team that won about 55 games and was the No. 2 seed in the East, that was a great chemistry team. We were all tight-knit and close. My first time around with the Knicks [in 2010-11] when we were young – with Amare Stoudemire, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Landry Fields, Toney Douglas – even with that team, we were really close too. The [2009-10] Bobcats team that I was on in my fifth season when we finally got over the hump and made the playoffs, we were really close and tight. I had a really good friend, who was almost like a big brother to me, in Stephen Jackson on that team. Me and Gerald Wallace are really close. Tyson Chandler was on that team and we are really close. DJ Augustin, who’s still my little young fella to this day… There were a lot of guys. I could name a lot of teams that I’ve played for. In Dallas, I was really close with Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki, JJ Barea, Devin Harris… The list could go on and on. I was close with a lot of guys.
You’ve played in big markets and small markets throughout your career. What are the biggest differences when you’re in a big market versus a small market?
RF: To me, it didn’t really matter. It was all about the team to me. I’m all about winning. Thus far, I’ve yet to win an NBA championship, but I’ve won a championship at every other level I’ve played at. It was all about going to a good team; I couldn’t care less if it was in a smaller market or if it was New York or Los Angeles. It doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to play on a good team that’s going to win… Every city that I’ve played in embraced me with love.
You’ve played in the NBA for 14 years, which is the kind of longevity that every player wants to have. What advice would you give to younger players who want to have a long, successful career in the NBA?
RF: You just have to continue to work on your game and continue to get better, and learn how to adapt. Your style of play may not fit the team that you’re with, but you gotta find a way to get on the court and you gotta find a way to stay on the court. You have to figure those things out. I think those are the big things for the young guys, just learning how to adapt and learning how to play in different systems. Every system isn’t going to be a fit for you, but you still have to find a way to convince your coach to put you on the court and give you playing time.
How much has the game evolved from the start of your NBA career in 2005 to now?
RF: It’s a big difference, man. When I came into the league, there was a need for natural point guards – pass-first point guards. Now, point guards are scoring almost 30 points per game. You’ve got guys like Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and these guys who can average 25-plus points per game. Now, point guards are scorers rather than being passers with 15 assists, 16 assists. Those guys still do that sometimes, but they’re also scoring at a high volume.
Yeah, there are so many dominant point guards around the league. If you’re an opposing point guard, you’re matched up against a star in most games and you don’t get many nights off. What do you think of the point guard play in today’s NBA?
RF: Oh man, it’s amazing. To me, when they talk about the toughest position, I think it’s the point guard position because you have to bring it every night. From the time I stepped into the league and still to this day, it’s one of the toughest positions. You have to bring it every night because there’s always somebody on the other team who’s fast, quick, can score and can do a lot of different things. To me, the point guard position is probably one of the toughest [in sports].
There was a rumor that surfaced a few months ago that you had signed with a second-division team in the Czech Republic, but it wasn’t true. What was your reaction when you saw that report?
RF: Well, I was just upset. I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who’s over there training and who’s been coaching a bit overseas. We had a conversation and he asked me about coming over there. I even spoke to the general manager. But I did my research and had some people look into the team and I realized that it’s a small-division team, so I didn’t go. I never signed any deal. I never had my agent call them – they never even had a conversation. So, when that came out, I was just upset. It just felt like it wasn’t an appropriate thing for them to do, but it is what it is. I’m glad I had an opportunity to clear that up. I never had a deal over there, I never went over there and I never had any plans to go over there. It was just simply having a friend who’s over there within that team and having a conversation; that’s all it was.
You’re still a free agent right now and you are eligible to be a replacement player when the NBA season resumes in Orlando. Have you had any conversations with teams about the possibility of getting signed as a replacement player?
RF: I think my agent has, man. But, to me, I’m up in the air about that whole situation because we don’t have this coronavirus thing under control. I have a family, I have kids, and I have other things to worry about. Do I want to play basketball? Yes, I love basketball. I’ve been out for a whole year, so I definitely want to play and I definitely want to be on somebody’s roster. I want to help out, being that leader in the locker room and on the court and playing my role. But it’s kind of hard when six more guys just had a positive test, so we’re talking about more and more guys every week who are coming up positive when tested. Now, you’re going to put everyone together all in one place and play these games? To me, man, it’s just not safe. I ain’t no expert on this. But, in my opinion, it’s not safe. I’m just not 100-percent comfortable with playing right now because it’s not okay. The cases are steady going up. And they’re going to Florida, which is one of the worst places to go at this moment! I don’t know, man. It’s kind of tough for me. I do want to play. I do love to play basketball, and I’m ready to play and want to play. But it’s a tough situation right now, man. It really is.
If you decide against playing in Orlando, would you then focus on signing with a team next season (when things are hopefully getting back to normal a bit)?
RF: Oh, no question… It’d be like I was away for just one season and I would definitely be looking to try to get with somebody next season. I just want to play. I’m not retiring. I want to play. Even if I have to go across that water to play, I will. I just want to play basketball. I’m not ready to let the game go yet.
It seems like NBA teams are going after younger players rather than signing veterans who can make an impact on the court and off the court (as a leader and mentor). Has that been frustrating?
RF: I think it’s very frustrating because I think it’s what these young guys need. The player-development coaches are great and it’s something that the kids need, but you also need a veteran. When I came into the league, I had a bunch of veterans who helped me out – Juwan Howard, Kurt Thomas, Derek Anderson, Brevin Knight. I had guys like that – older guys who had played 14+ years in the league already – who took me under their wing and taught me a lot of things (not just on the court, but off the court too). I think that’s missing now. That’s a vital thing that a lot of teams don’t take into consideration. You still need that. You still need an older, veteran player on the team who’s been in the league, who’s been around this for a while and who’s used to being in the NBA and [knows] everything that comes with being an NBA player because this is stuff that some of these young guys need to know! These guys are coming into the NBA younger and younger – at 18 and 19 years old – so they need some guidance. Sometimes, coaches aren’t able to get across to them what they need to hear and how they need to hear it. Sometimes, they need to hear it from somebody who’s been through it for 15 years and who they really trust and will listen to. I think that’s a vital thing that’s missing, man. Hopefully one day that will change, but I don’t know…
How much longer do you want to continue playing?
RF: My ultimate goal was always 16 years. I’ve played 14 before this season, so this year would’ve been 15. I want to play another two years and if I can stretch it to three, I will. But I definitely want to play another two because I still want to reach my goal of playing 16 years.
You mentioned that you’re open to going overseas if you have to and I’m sure international teams have been reaching out to your agent. Have you received interest from a lot of overseas teams this year?
RF: They’ve been having talks. They’re having some conversations now, just to kind of get on top of it. This is the first time that I’ve actually been open to, just seeing the changes in the league and how they want to go younger and want to basically not even have veterans that much anymore. It’s just one of those things where I’m like, “Okay, well, I still want to play…” So even if I have to go play over there, that’s what I’m going to do. That’s how that came about.
During this year that you haven’t been in the NBA, how have you spent your time and what have you been doing to stay in shape?
RF: Before the season was [suspended], I was in Houston; I was working out every day, training, playing pick-up and all of that. But once the gyms closed, I really didn’t have anything to do but try to do what I can at home. From being in the basketball world for so long, I have friends and people I know who have gyms and stuff that I can get in. But, for the most part, a lot of people shut their gym down for almost a month and a half – even my friends had to shut down because they were going to get in trouble since the state required it. In a lot of situations, it was tough. Over the last month, I’ve been able to get back in the gym and get back on the basketball court again – touching a ball again and getting shots up and getting back to it – and it’s just been great. I’ve been going at it every day. I’m still trying to spend time with my kids and do all of that, but I’m trying to keep myself ready and safe at the same time. I’m staying prepared for that phone call.
Some NBA coaches and trainers have suggested that veterans may have an advantage coming out of this break since they have experience keeping their body in shape and can do everything on their own whereas young players rely on their trainers and coaches a lot more. Do you agree that veterans may have had an edge during the break?
RF: No question. You know how to take care of your body and you know the things to do for recovery. I have pretty much everything that we get at the facility here at my house; I have all of the things that I need to recover here. So, yeah, I think that is an advantage – knowing your body and knowing what you have to do to be in shape and to be game-ready without having somebody with you 24/7 who’s helping you and walking you through stuff. Knowing that stuff is a big difference between veterans and young guys.
You won multiple state championships in high school, you won an NCAA championship at UNC. What would it mean for you to add an NBA championship to your list of accomplishments?
RF: Ah, man, that would be the like icing on the cake of my career. Just being able to say that I’ve won a ‘ship at all three levels, that would be amazing. Hopefully, before I walk away from this game, I can say that I did that. But we’ll have to see what happens.
You’ve played for seven teams in 14 years. When you change teams, you’re adjusting to new coaches, new teammates, new cities and so on. Was moving from team to team in recent years difficult for you?
RF: I think the moving part is more difficult. Like, moving from team to team and getting adjusted to different coaches isn’t a hard thing for me because I’m a student of the game. I study the game and I like to get to know coaches and their plays. I’m a student, so it’s never difficult for me because I like to watch film and see how I can be successful in the offense and learn the defensive scheme and how they do things. I’m just a student of the game; I love to watch other players and see what other coaches do. It was never really a tough moment for me. It was all about just growing relationships with my coaches and that’s something that I did with pretty much all the coaches that I played for.
Moving is the rough part. There aren’t many professions where your employer tells you, “We’re moving you across the country permanently and you need to leave tomorrow.” How did you react the first time you were traded?
RF: Ah man, I was hurt. I was hurt. I mean, I was having one of my best seasons in my career. In my first time with New York, I was averaging like 17.0 or 18.0 points and 9.0 assists. I was having a great year and it was just tough when that trade happened. I got sent to Denver [in the Carmelo Anthony deal] and it was tough… It was just tough. I was hurt about that one, I ain’t even going to lie to you. (laughs)
Does it get easier the more times you get traded? Do you sort of get used to it?
RF: Yeah, it’s just one of those things where I try to look at the positive part of it and say, “Listen, at least somebody wants you!” When nobody wants you, that’s when it gets worse. When you have people inquiring about you, that’s always a good thing.
I’m sure you’re used to dealing with rumors by now. I know some players read every rumor while others try to ignore them. What is your approach to rumors?
RF: I just don’t read it, man. I don’t read what people say, and I don’t read what the media writes when it comes to rumors. When it comes to that stuff, I just block it out. If my agent calls me, then I’m like, “Okay, now this is something serious.” If he calls me and says that a team is inquiring about me and the team that I’m with is talking to him and they’re trying to figure out a deal, that’s when I’m like, “Okay, I might be on the move.” That’s different, when you get that phone call.
After your playing days are over, what career path do you want to pursue?
RF: I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know. It’s going to be something within basketball – training kids, getting kids prepared for the NBA Draft, getting kids prepared for their season, just helping out and being a mentor. I thought about coaching, but I’m not sure about that. I’m still up in the air about that. But that’s something where I could give my knowledge back to the game. I don’t know. I have kids who are coming up and who want to play as well, so I don’t know if I want to put all of that time back into the game after I’m done and not be able to coach [my kids] and be at their games and be around. I just have a lot to think about when it comes to all of that.
How has fatherhood changed you?
RF: It’s made me grow up as a man and it’s made me look at life and a whole lot of things differently. It’s great being a dad. I get to see all of the things that my dad got to see when I was coming up – the things that used to make him happy and proud, and the things that used to make him upset (laughs). I see all of those things now. It’s a beautiful thing. I love being a dad.
Basketball, Interview, NBA, Podcast, Featured, Interview, Podcast, Top, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Juwan Howard, Raymond Felton, Stephen Jackson, Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder