George Karl: Ty Lawson Will Start Over Raymond Felton -- For Now
DENVER -- Raymond Felton has gone from having been a strong All-Star candidate to not even being a starter.
At least that's the word from Denver coach George Karl.
With the blockbuster trade getting done Tuesday in which forward Carmelo Anthony and point guard Chauncey Billups are going to New York, the Nuggets have ended up with Felton, a point guard averaging 17.1 points and 9.0 assists. But that's not good enough for Felton to immediately start in Denver, where Karl said Ty Lawson, who had been the backup to Billups, will now move into that role.
"As for now, and probably for the next week or two, I'd say Ty will be the starter, and I think you'll see them play a lot together,'' Karl said.
But won't Felton, who was having a breakout season in his first year with the Knicks, be given an opportunity soon to become the starter?
"It's not important,'' Karl said. "I don't think it's important at this point in anybody's mind. It shouldn't be important in Raymond's or Ty's mind. It's about 25 games left (in the season), we've got to become a good basketball team and how that happens everybody should be happy about.''
The interesting thing about all this is both Felton and Lawson quarterbacked North Carolina to national championships in the past decade, Felton winning in 2005 and Lawson in 2009. And Karl is a North Carolina alum.
"I know him real well,'' Lawson said about Felton in an interview Tuesday with FanHouse. "We're close friends. I haven't talked to him yet. I just want to send him a text message (soon).''
Lawson, averaging 10.4 points and 3.7 assists in 23.9 minutes, insists he doesn't think it will get in the way of their friendship that the two could be battling for the starting job.
"I'm not afraid of that,'' Lawson said. "At the end of the day, it's whatever they (namely Karl) decide. I don't think it's going to be a battle like we're going against each other.''
As Karl noted, the two often will play together.
"We've got to have more passing in our game than shooting,'' Karl said. "And now, if I have to play two point guards who can each get nine assists each night, I think that's enough passing.''
Still, there's little history in the NBA of a team effectively using two point guards over the long haul, just as there isn't for an NFL team alternating quarterbacks. Remember Dallas' Tom Landry trying to rotate Roger Staubach and Craig Morton in the early 1970s before finally going with just Staubach and then winning two Super Bowls?
Since the Nuggets acquired Lawson in a draft night trade in June 2009, he's been looked upon as the point guard to eventually replace Billups, 34. Billups is due to make $14.2 million in the final year of his contract next season, and the Nuggets had been planning to buy him out at the end of the season for $3.7 million if he was still with them.
When it became apparent last month the Nuggets were looking to trade Billups, Lawson said he prepared himself to be the starter sooner than originally had been expected.
"Yeah, definitely,'' Lawson said. "I just got more shots up and things like that. I just groomed myself to be more of a leader, talking. ... I'm definitely ready (to be the starter). I'm a basketball player, at the end of the day, with confidence. I can't say I'm not ready. I'm ready for this opportunity.''
But Lawson, not in line to realistically become a restricted free agent until the summer of 2013, insists it's won't bother him if Felton, under contract both this season and next for $7.5 million, were eventually to take over as the starter.
"Not really,'' Lawson said. "You just got to earn the position. So I'm just going to play and whatever happens takes its course. ... It's up to them (who starts). It's their decision, not my decision.''
Point guard isn't the only big decision Karl will have in the deal in which the Nuggets also got forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler and center Timofey Mozgov, a first-round pick and two second-round picks while also giving up forwards Shelden Williams and Renaldo Balkman and third-string point guard Anthony Carter.
The two candidates to replace Anthony at small forward are Gallinari and Chandler. Karl said he's leaning toward Gallinari.
"My gut right now is Gallo because he passes the ball,'' Karl said. "He has a feel for the game. He has a sense for the game.''
Karl also has a decision to make on his primary sixth man. He said he's leaning toward going with Chandler in that role more so than forward Al Harrington, who leads the team in minutes averaged off the bench at 25.0.
While the Nuggets lost their leading scorer in Anthony and their veteran leader in Billups, they now have more depth than before. Karl suddenly has a lot more ways he can go.
Getting nervous about all of this could be swingman J.R. Smith, whose minutes could be cut if he stays with the team. Asked by FanHouse about his future as Thursday's trade deadline approaches, Smith said, "I don't know. They haven't told me anything.''
Smith long has had an up-and-down relationship with Karl due to his erratic play. Now, Karl has enough depth to make Smith really earn his minutes.
"I'm going to play the team that's going to play the right way now,'' Karl said of wanting fundamentally sound players. "Unfortunately, I can say J.R. has come a long way, but he also knows how to play the wrong way. I'm not going to be really lenient on crazy (play). The window of now playing the game the right way is now in my control (where before) it was a more democratic process between Chauncey, me and Melo in the past.''
Whoever plays more of the right way figures to eventually emerge as the primary point guard. Karl admits he has some reservations about Lawson
"I think Ty is in a good place,'' Karl said. "I think Ty has had a good year. But one thing I will say about Ty that makes me a little nervous is he has not understood sustaining 82 games. I'm not saying he's fading a little bit, but I'm just saying that 82 games is one of the great challenges about NBA basketball. It's playing 60 to 65 good to really good games.''
Well, Felton this season for the Knicks has played 54 games, and most of them have been pretty darn good. While he won't show up in Denver as the starting point guard, it's hardly out of the question he eventually could be.