- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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One of the biggest questions for the Knicks heading into this season surrounds point guard Raymond Felton.
Which Felton will show up in October? A slimmed-down facsimile of the player we saw in 2010? Or the point guard who reportedly struggled with his weight throughout an underwhelming 2011-12 season?
There's no way to answer that question in mid-August, of course.
But veteran Kurt Thomas spoke recently with Felton and believes the point guard is motivated entering his second stint with the Knicks.
"He's definitely motivated, he's definitely excited, he definitely wants to come back to New York," Thomas, who was dealt from Portland to New York along with Felton in a sign-and-trade, told ESPNNewYork by phone on Tuesday. "He's looking forward to this season."
And so is Thomas.
The 17-year veteran, like Felton, is back for his second stint with the Knicks.
He was "completely surprised" when he first heard he was headed back to New York.
"I didn't have any idea something like this would happen," he said. "But I'm definitely excited and really looking forward to the opportunity."
At the time of the trade, many assumed that Thomas would not get significant playing time in New York this year.
Thomas, however, hopes and expects to contribute.
"I play to my strengths," Thomas, 39, said. "I don't try to play outside of what I can do on the floor. I'm a guy who's known for playing defense, rebounding the ball (and) a guy who can shoot the ball."
Thomas averaged 3.5 points and 3 rebounds last season in 15 minutes per night. In 2010-11, he scored 4.1 points and pulled down 5.7 rebounds in 23 minutes per game for Chicago.
Thomas will be the oldest player on the Knicks' roster, but not by much. New York also acquired veterans Marcus Camby (38) and Jason Kidd (39) this summer.
Thomas called the offseason moves a "step in the right direction."
He believes that the new veterans can have a positive effect on the Knicks' locker room.
"You help your teammates get through tough situations, so I think that's definitely a positive," he said.
Thomas, of course, is no stranger to the Knicks' locker room.
He played in New York from 1998-2005, filling a key role on the 1999 team that made a surprise run to the NBA Finals.
"During that time, the city was definitely rocking it was definitely exciting," said Thomas, who is 19th on the Knicks' all-time scoring list, eighth in rebounds and fourth in blocked shots. "The fans of New York are incredible, they really support the Knicks. ... It was a great opportunity and hopefully we can create it again."
In order to get anywhere near the Finals this year, the Knicks will need Felton to be bounce back from his sub-par 2011-12 season, when he averaged 11.5 points and 6.5 assists, and shot 41 percent from the field for Portland.
Thomas believes that Felton, a seven-year veteran, can regain the form he showed in New York in 2010 (17 ppg, 9 apg).
"Ray has been doing this in the league for at least 7 years now and I think he's a capable guard," Thomas said. "He showed that in his first stint there in New York and I'm pretty sure he's going to do even better the second time around."
Felton, whom the Knicks obtained instead of matching Houston's three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet to Jeremy Lin, would probably agree with Thomas' assessment. He told MSG Network in July that he looks forward to "shutting up" his critics from last season.
"Not making no excuses, it was a lockout," he told the network. "I'm the first one to say: I wasn't in shape. I'm the first one to say that. I don't make no excuses, I don't blame nobody else.
"That's all I'm hearing from everybody. 'Oh, he wasn't in shape last year.' I've played in the league seven years, about to be eight, I came in out of shape one year and that's all anybody wants to talk about. ... If that's all everybody wants to talk about, I look forward to this year to shutting up everybody's mouth."
THOMAS ON 2012-13 EXPECTATIONS: Thomas wasn't around the Knicks last season, so he wanted to reserve comment on the team until he gets a chance to work out with everyone during training camp.
But he believes the Knicks have what it takes to take a step forward from last season, which ended when the Knicks lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Heat, 4-1. And he knows expectations are high.
"Playing in New York, they don't expect anything less than a championship," he said. "You definitely try to build from the year before. Making it to the playoffs, that was big. Getting the first (playoff) win in ten years, that was big. But now it's about trying to get to that second round and keep going."
Thomas also talked about the Knicks' trip to the '99 Finals, which he said was one of his best memories as a Knick.
"It was an incredible run, it ewas an incredible ride. There was definitely a great excitement in New York and I would love to see that happen again," he said.
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