For every Goran Dragic or Ersan Ilyasova, players who explode just months before they hit unrestricted free agency, there's a Raymond Felton. Entering a contract year and his first season in Portland, Felton was poised to take over for Andre Miller as the Trail Blazers' point guard, but struggled mightily for a good chunk of the season, falling out of favor with the Portland faithful. It certainly wasn't the strongest contract year we've ever seen.
But Felton's 2011/12 campaign wasn't as bad as it inititally seemed it would be. His production improved when Kaleb Canales replaced head coach Nate McMillan, and a solid second half returned many of his numbers to near his career marks. His 11.4 PPG and 13.4 PER were still career worsts, but he finished the season on the right foot with April averages of 14.2 PPG and 7.7 APG on .460/.421/.923 shooting.
That late-season surge could earn Felton a couple extra million dollars this summer, but it likely wasn't enough to earn him a spot among the most coveted point guards on the free agent market. With Deron Williams leading the way, Steve Nash, Ramon Sessions, Dragic, and Miller headline the unrestricted options, while Jeremy Lin, D.J. Augustin, Aaron Brooks, and Jerryd Bayless are among those likely to be restricted free agents.
Of course, with so many point guards hitting free agency, that leaves a number of teams in need of a starter at the position. The Nets, Mavericks, Lakers, Heat, Knicks, Suns, Blazers, and Hornets are a few clubs expected to have a point guard at or near the top of their wishlists, while teams like the Hawks, Warriors, Bulls, and Bobcats could also be seeking a veteran at the position.
Though Felton expressed a desire in April to re-sign in Portland, I can't see him returning to the Blazers. After players like Williams, Nash, Lin, and Dragic are off the board, however, Felton could be one of the best values remaining at the point. He'll come cheaper than he did two summers ago, when he signed a two-year deal worth $14MM+, and based on his second-half performance, he seems to be a solid bounceback candidate.
In my view, the best fit for Felton could be on a contender where he'll be a complementary player rather than a top scoring option. Teams like the Lakers and Heat may target bigger names than Felton, but with only the taxpayer mid-level exception available to sign free agents, they're unlikely to be players for Williams, Nash, or other first-tier options. Adding Felton to Miami's rotation to split time with Mario Chalmers at the point, at a cost of $3MM, wouldn't be out of the question. It would be a good chance for Felton to rebuild his value, feeding LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, while finally giving the Heat the veteran point guard they've been missing for the past couple seasons.
Miami is far from the only potential landing spot for Felton, but it represents the kind of situation Felton should be seeking. A short-term deal with a contending team that wouldn't ask too much of him would allow the 27-year-old to put the 2011/12 season behind him and try to return to his previous level of production. If he's able to do that, he'd put himself in good position for a more lucrative contract a year or two from now.