The Kenyon Martin signing isn’t important because he’s going to replace all of the minutes that Solomon Jones or Brian Cook would play (while also taking away some minutes from Reggie Evans). It’s not significant because he’s one of the top free agents available. It’s not significant because he’s now the Clippers’ second-best offensive option down low.
It’s significant because he demonstrated his free will and chose the Clippers.
All season, the talk has been about change. How the Clippers are no longer a laughingstock franchise. How they have what it takes to make a deep run in the playoffs. How they’re the best team in Los Angeles. But nothing signifies change more than a valuable free agent, with a plethora of options from other contenders and more notable franchises, choosing to join your squad. That’s one of the true marks of a team making the next step to an elite franchise.
See, some may look to Caron Butler and Chris Paul joining the Clippers as the first signs of this change, but they’re wrong. And as we know, Chauncey Billups was picked up by the Clippers (to his dismay) and Reggie Evans, while a solid pick-up and a glimpse of change, lacks the talent and notoriety of Martin. I’m not saying Martin is that much of a game-changer — but I will say the move speaks volumes of how far the Clippers have come in the past couple months.
While Butler ultimately chose the Clippers over the New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs, taking less money in the process, it wasn’t as impressive because his options were somewhat limited. As enticing as it was to suit up with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, the Nets are far from a playoff team. They’re quite terrible, actually. Butler knew this. At this stage in his career, there’s no way he’d actually sign with the Nets unless he knew they were going to pull off the Dwight Howard trade.
Sure, he has publicly admitted he was very close to signing with the team, but the pre-CP3 Clippers were always the frontrunner. Most people expected them to be a playoff team, or at least have a great shot at making it, so it’s not as if he was joining a bottom-feeder. He saw a young team with potential, a big city, and a chance to be the main guy at small forward.
On the other hand, the Spurs are the ideal franchise – professional, elite and successful. How could he turn them down? Well, how about the fact that despite the rumors of amnestying him, the Spurs never officially released Richard Jefferson. Butler may be the better player, but Jefferson seems to fit the Spurs’ system better (at times) and they’d have ended up splitting minutes (although I may be overlooking the annual Manu Ginobili injury).
Of course, maybe if Butler joined the Spurs, they’d have let Jefferson go. But that’s beside the point. Hindsight is 20/20, and in retrospect, the Clippers were always Butler’s best option. He saw something we necessarily didn’t, and he capitalized on the situation.
Which brings us to Chris Paul. Some may also say he chose the Clippers, which is basically true. But he initially would have been just as happy to go to the other L.A. team or that confounding Knickerbocker squad. (Before people bring up the Lakers/Knicks’ problems, remember this happened in early December. People weren’t as low on those teams yet, and they definitely weren’t as high on the Clippers.)
The Lakers deal got vetoed (and appeared to be permanently dead) and the Knicks lacked the assets to acquire him without parting with Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony or newly acquired Tyson Chandler. Paul wanted to get out of New Orleans as soon as possible, and saw an intriguing situation with the Clippers. In retrospect, the Clippers were also clearly his best option. True, there was much risk involved, but not as much as staying with the Hornets.
Martin, on the other hand, chose the Clippers as a free agent. He had just as enticing options – anywhere he signed, he’d be the first big man off the bench (or possibly even a starter in some cases). There were numerous reasons for Martin to choose another team, yet he chose L.A. And not even the L.A. Lakers – everyone’s top free agent destination – but the L.A. Clippers.
This isn’t to undermine Butler or Paul joining the Clippers – technically, they both decided to come to Los Angeles. And there’s doubting that they are more vital to the Clippers than Martin is. But in reality, the Clippers were clearly their best situations. Their safest bets. It would’ve been foolish for them to not pick the Clippers.
For Martin? There’s a lot of risk involved. He could be making the wrong choice. He could probably play more with another team. He could fit better in another system. But instead, he chose the Clippers. He, as a veteran free agent hungry for a championship, used his free will and leverage to join the red, white and blue.
And that’s the biggest change this season.