ClipperBlog contributor Michael Shagrin gives us the rundown on the Kenyon Martin situation:
Kenyon Martin Sweepstakes?
In the near future, Kenyon Martin will choose the NBA team with which he will play out the remaining games of the lockout shortened 2011-12 season. As an unrestricted free agent at the end of last season, Martin abandoned the labor-locked NBA in favor of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) where he received a record-setting $2.65-million contract from the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. Unlike in Euroleague, the CBA prohibits a player from participating in any FIBA sanctioned game outside of the Chinese league as long as the team with which the player signed is still competing. Though Martin and the team agreed to a buyout in late December, Martin will only become eligible to join an NBA team on Feb. 16—as long as the Flying Tigers stay out of playoff position.
Martin’s services as an aggressive defender and athletic finisher within 10-feet have been enough to attract the attention of some of the most formidable teams in the league (though his wrist-flick line drives jumpers have been known to give emotionally invested fans a mild form of PTSD). According to sources close to the power forward, Martin is looking to sign where he can get serious minutes and an opportunity for a title.
Those teams with interest that meet Martin’s standard are the Clippers, New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, and Miami Heat. Martin didn’t mention contract heft in his decision calculus, but it surely will be a factor after his Chinese contract was prorated. In this department, the Clippers share an advantage with New York. Though the Spurs and Hawks retain their mini mid-level exception, only the Clippers and Knicks can offer Martin the $2.5-million exception without luxury tax implications, which would complicate an offer by San Antonio or Atlanta. The Heat are the least financially impressive, with the ability to offer Martin only the veteran’s minimum salary at $1.4-million. Martin’s wish list has recently expanded to include the Los Angeles Lakers.
The KMart Deal: Cheap and Effective*
After being selected first overall by the New Jersey Nets in the 2000 Draft and helping them to consecutive NBA Finals, Martin landed with the Denver Nuggets where his tenure was plagued by injury and controversy. A constantly nagging knee eclipsed all seven of his season in Denver, as Martin averaged a measly 53 games played per season. Though he started every game he entered since the 2007-08 season, Martin’s games played have steadily declined over the past four seasons (71 games, 66 games, 58 games, then 48 games).
His off the court antics should certainly be weighed into a signing decision, since the Clippers wouldn’t want to do anything to spoil their newfound, unselfish chemistry. An illustrative story of the controversy that has followed Martin should have a special place in the heart of Clipper Nation. When Martin’s Nuggets faced the Clippers in the first round of the 2006 Playoffs, a halftime argument with Coach George Karl during Game 2 sparked a suspension for the remainder of the series. Allegedly, the two didn’t speak until the next preseason. The Clippers, on the other hand, went on to win the series in five games, their first and only series victory since moving from Buffalo.
Like his former Denver teammate and Clipper convert, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin has a chip on his shoulder. Martin wants everyone to believe, like he does, that beneath all those outbursts and sore knees is the missing block in the construction of a championship team. Only once have the ironies of justice lead to a successful Clippers playoff-run, but maybe that trend will be reversed… Thank you Kenyon Martin?
*Liable to break down if overused or provoked.
A Perfect Fit in Lob City
The Clippers primary issue (after the sudden and much appreciated improvement in perimeter defense) is the lack of any versatile big men to come off of the bench. The problem doesn’t expose itself during ordinary games where Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan average 37 and 31 minutes per game, respectively, but rather would become a very serious shortcoming when unforeseen circumstances bring Griffin or DJ to the sideline during crunch time of a make-or-break game. Lack of depth in the frontcourt is also problematic when considering the precarious nature of Caron Butler’s health.
Were Kenyon Martin to join the Clippers, he would be slotted as the first big off the bench, a role currently occupied by the lovable but talent-deficient Reggie Evans. Evans is serviceable when you surround him by offensive dynamite (let’s not forget his involvement in the 12-0 run against OKC), but if the Clippers have their sights on the title, which they should, the most prominent forward reserve needs to do more than rebound. As a member of the second unit, Evans is usually paired with either Griffin or the barely noticeable Solomon Jones (Reggie has been on the floor only nine minutes with DeAndre Jordan).
The entry of Reggie Evans into the game is, sadly, a harbinger of a meager offensive output. Amongst lineups that have played at least 10 minutes on the floor together, the group with the worst effective field goal percentage (33%) is the starters playing with Evans instead of DeAndre Jordan. With Jordan in the game at Center, the eFG jumps to 46%. While I wish DeAndre’s superb field goal percentage was enough to explain this discrepancy, it is not. Since Evans poses as close to a non-existent offensive threat as one can find in professional basketball, his defensive assignment is free to play roaming help defense, which results in more stifling double teams and obstructed passing lanes, impeding the flow of Chris Paul’s offense.
By significantly decreasing Jones’ already paltry minutes as well as supplanting Evans as the primary frontcourt reserve, a Martin signing would add the offensive threat that could complete this Clippers team. The offensive dropoff from the starters to the bench right now is agonizingly conspicuous. The Clippers score more points in the first quarter than any other team in the NBA (26.8), when the only consistent substitution has been the mid-quarter swap of Mo Williams for Chauncey Billups. As the Clippers’ reserves trickle their way onto the court for the second quarter, the statistical shift is woebegone—the Clippers drop to 15th in second quarter points per game (23.4).
Evans is averaging 16 minutes and less than a field goal attempt per game. His free throw shooting has markedly sagged, his rebounding rate isn’t as exorbitant as it was last year, and his PER is 7.71—a career low (though still the best for a forward on a bench with Ryan Gomes at 5.60, Jones at 6.63, and Brian Cook at a jaw-dropping -0.16). Martin, on the other hand, demonstrated last year that he still has the skills to contribute nightly, on offense and defense, showing that with increased patience comes efficiency. Though only scoring 8.6 points per game last year, Martin shot above .500 from the field for the first time in Denver while also seeing his assist rate (or the percentage of a player’s possessions that end in an assist) increase from 12.2% to 19.4%—a career high. Martin’s maturity was reflected last season by a PER of 14.2, only slightly lower than DeAndre Jordan’s efficiency so far this year (17.03).
It pains me that this analysis turned into a referundum on Reggie Evans. I love Reggie Evans almost as much as he loves candy but if KMart decides to come to the Clippers, he would have a sizeable role on a team that could win the title. His basketball chops plus a “buy-in” attitude would take this team to a new level, as long as the bright new spotlight on the once-shunned side of the Staples Center doesn’t bring out the KMart whose destructive antics we were happy to watch on someone else’s team. The smooth incorporation of Martin may be the unproven Vinny Del Negro’s greatest challenge yet, particularly in light of Martin’s treatment of the formidable George Karl.
The risk seems worth the reward.
Ed note: Latest update on the Kenyon Martin situation via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
In a surprising turn of events, the governing body of international basketball – FIBA – has granted free agent Kenyon Martin his letter of clearance to immediately return to the NBA, league sources told Yahoo! Sports. Martin has visited with several teams interested in signing him, including Atlanta on Thursday, and will huddle with agent Andy Miller in New York over the weekend to reach a decision. …. For now, the plan is for Martin to travel to the team’s city on Monday to take a physical, sign a contract and work out for perhaps a week before he’s activated.