Raymond Felton couldn’t have picked a worst place to start his four-game suspension.
The Dallas Mavericks’ point guard grew up in Latta, S.C., which is about a two-hour drive from Time Warner Cable Arena. A star player, Felton led Latta to a 104-9 record and two state titles and established state records with 2,992 points and 117 3-pointers.
Additionally, Felton was a star player at North Carolina, where he helped the Tar Heels capture the 2005 NCAA championship.
As his NBA career has blossomed, Felton and the Mavs (7-3) will face the Charlotte Hornets (4-6) at 6 tonight. However, Felton is not allowed to be in the building.
The NBA suspended Felton this past summer for four games after he pleaded guilty to a gun charge related to an incident in New York in February while he was playing for the Knicks. Felton was scheduled to serve the suspension the first four games of the regular season.
But the 10-year veteran suffered a high right ankle sprain during the Mavs’ second preseason game — on Oct. 10 — against the Oklahoma City Thunder. If not for that injury, Felton’s suspension would have been over and he would have been able to greet his many family members and friends who would have been at Time Warner Cable Arena tonight to watch him perform.
Instead, Felton had to shift to Plan B, because NBA rules forbid a suspended player from being in the arena two hours before tipoff and at any point during the game.
“It’s a little bittersweet thing,’’ Felton said after Monday morning’s shootaround. “It feels good to start (the suspension), but then it’s also one of those things where I only play here once (a season).
“This is basically home, it’ll be great to play in front of my family and those who can’t come to Dallas and see me, like my mother and others who only can come to Charlotte and see me play. It’s something that I’ve just got to do it — I understand that.’’
Felton’s mother has two homes, including one in Charlotte. Felton will either be there watching tonight’s game with family members — or at his hotel room — then meet the Mavs at their charter after the game.
“Some are going to come (to the game), but my immediately family will be with me — like my sisters, nieces and nephews, my son, my mom, my dad — watching the game,’’ Felton said. “But then I’ve still got some family members still want to go to the arena to watch the game.’’
After tonight, Felton also must sit out Wednesday’s game in Washington, Friday’s home game against the Los Angeles Lakers and Saturday’s road contest in Houston. He’ll be eligible to play his first game with the Mavs on Nov. 24 at American Airlines Center against the Indiana Pacers.
For now, Felton just wants the entire nightmarish gun incident to disappear.
“Just go ahead and get that whole situation that happened last year just totally behind me,’’ he said. “Right here, this is the last step.
“Just getting the suspension out the way and being able to move on.’’
Felton was acquired by the Mavs in a June 25 trade with the Knicks, which also brought center Tyson Chandler back to Dallas. The Mavs are anxious to see the wrinkles Felton can add to their offensive and defensive arsenal.
“He’s been in the league for a while, and he’s a great player, an established player, and he brings toughness as well,’’ point guard Jameer Nelson said. “I’m not sure how he’ll be used.
“But he’s always a guy I’ve respected and who plays really hard all the time and has done a great job running teams.’’
Felton also isn’t sure how he’ll fit into a solid point guard alignment which includes Nelson as the starter and Devin Harris and J.J. Barea as the backups.
“Just bringing in another guy who can make plays and help get guys shots,’’ Felton said in describing himself. “Wherever I need to fit in at.
“I’m just happy to be off the injured reserve and get a chance to play. Where my minutes and where I fit in at, that’s where it comes down, so I’m not really worried about it. This was the main thing is to get off this injured reserve and get back on the court with these guys.’’
Felton had to be physically fit and placed on the Mavs’ active roster for his suspension to start. With that in place, the Mavs will only have 12 players available for tonight’s game against Charlotte.
The return to the active list has been a long time coming for Felton, a feisty playmaker who averaged 9.7 points and 5.6 assists in 65 games for the Knicks last year.
“That high ankle sprain is something I’ve never experienced,’’ Felton said. “But they say it’s the worst possible ankle sprain you can have and I understand why, because it kind of rises all the way up your leg and it hurts for a long time.
“You never know how much you use something until you really injure it.’’
As part of Felton’s plea deal, he has to serve 500 hours of community service. That also was placed on hold with the high ankle sprain.
“I still got a lot (remaining),’’ Felton said. “Since I’ve been hurt I haven’t really been able to do much because I don’t want to be doing things with my ankle like this.
“But now that I’m here now, I can start back picking up on that.’’