Before Oklahoma City shed Carmelo Anthony’s expiring contract last offseason, trading it to Atlanta for the services of Dennis Schroder, it had already signed Raymond Felton to an extension.
The season before, Felton had been one of the bright spots on a fairly dim Thunder bench.
Then, for most of this season, Felton was the 14-year veteran who’d signed a new deal, yet hardly played, seeing action in just 26 of the season’s first 75 games.
Well, he played 25 seconds in Game 76, against Denver, yet the final six games of the regular season, he has played at least 10 minutes in each and 24 in the regular-season finale at Milwaukee.
The Thunder, of course, won five of those six games and it's become easy to imagine that this might have been OKC coach Billy Donovan’s plan all along, saving the veteran for the most important time of the season.
“I have a tremendous amount of confidence in him as a person,” Donovan said. "He’s a high character guy, he’s a leader, he’s really smart, very cerebral, knows the game. He’s seen a lot of different things.”
The player whose time Felton has mostly taken is Abdel Nader, who had a run of seven straight games of contributing two or fewer field goals and one or zero assists to the Thunder’s offensive cause prior to Felton’s ascension.
Over the last six games of the regular season, Felton scored 28 points, dished 11 assists, turned the ball over only once and made 8 of 16 3-point attempts.
“I think when there’s good matchups out there for Raymond, he can be a guy who’s another playmaker, distributor, who can handle the ball and, the way he has shot the ball from behind the 3-point line, gives us another player who can make a shot.”
Also, over the last six games, Felton has carried a net plus-minus of plus 13 and had his biggest game in the one he saw the most action.
In 24 minutes at Milwaukee, he finished 4 of 8 from the field, all from 3-point land, finishing with 12 points, seven assists, four rebounds and a single turnover.
Felton, who Charlotte chose with the fifth selection in the 2005 draft out of North Carolina, is clearly well liked.
“He’s a professional, regardless of if he’s in the game, if he’s playing or not,” OKC forward Jerami Grant said. “On the bench, he’s always cheering for us, he’s always ready.
“The opportunity came and he was clearly ready. He’s always in here after practice, shooting, getting extra shots up at night and everything.”
What’s unclear moving into an opening-round playoff series against Portland is how deep Donovan’s bench might be.
He spoke the last week of the regular season of a willingness to try anything, play anybody if it feels like the right move.
Still, most benches get shorter when the playoffs roll around.
If anything appears clear about Felton, whether the OKC bench is short or long, it's that the most senior member of the Thunder will have an on-court role.
Said Donovan, "I just have a lot of confidence and belief in him."