What Can Kevin Martin Do For The Rockets?

OAKLAND CA - DECEMBER 20: Kevin Martin #12 of the Houston Rockets dribbles past Acie Law #2 of the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on December 20 2010 in Oakland California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

In many people's minds, Kevin Martin is no longer a Rocket. After a season in which he struggled initially, suffered a serious shoulder injury, and was outplayed by Courtney Lee, conventional wisdom states that Martin is on his way out. Given that Daryl Morey is at the helm, conventional wisdom can take a back seat.

Though the Rockets have been giving every indication that they have big plans for this summer, Rockets fans are all too aware of the difficulty of making a big splash. Because Les Alexander has given a decree to keep the team competitive while rebuilding, don't expect the Rockets to blow it up this summer in pursuit of a horrible record and top draft pick.

Instead, they'll likely maximize flexibility and make marginal upgrades at whatever spots they can. Given Martin's expiring contract, he is exactly the kind of piece they would like to keep around.

In essence, the Rockets are not going to trade Kevin Martin just to trade Kevin Martin; that's simply not their modus operandi. After the jump, read on to see Patrick piss off BD and Mike mercilessly about how you're probably underestimating Martin's impact!

At this point in Martin's career, you pretty much know the book on Martin. He's a great scorer who struggles to contribute in other facets of the game, offering average defense and passing at best. What defines his value to the team is how often and how efficiently he can score.

Last season saw both his volume of scoring and his efficiency take a nosedive. Some attribute these struggles to a change from Rick Adelman's offense to Kevin McHale's, others point out the new rules diminish his value at the free throw line, and others speculate that Martin was pouting all season after being traded nearly being traded for Pau Gasol in December.

All of these thoughts have some merit, but the biggest factor has to be Martin's injury. In a practice on February 2nd, Martin aggravated an existing shoulder injury, a labral tear, yet opted to continue playing through it. The worst part of the injury was the timing of it. After a disappointing start to the season, Martin appeared to be hitting his stride during the stretch immediately preceding this injury. He had registered 32, 25, 31, 29, 29, and 29 points in the six games he had played before the re-injury of the shoulder.

Martin had raised his PER past 20 and seemed poised to return to past form before the injury knocked him down. From that point on, Martin averaged just 14.6 points per game and failed to reach double digits nine times. He was finally knocked out for good by a hard screen in Cleveland on March 11th, and the team took off without him.

The Rockets won emotional victories against Los Angeles and Oklahoma City, and won 10 out of 15 games against a difficult schedule. The team seemed poised to challenge whatever opponent they would face in the playoffs. Hell, the 4th seed wasn't out of the question! Then, when the Rockets needed scoring most, replacement Courtney Lee's offense went quiet. The Rockets six in a row and fell out of the playoffs for good.

Just as the Rockets consistently rallied around the team concept when Yao went out (I'm not equating Yao and Martin's impact), the 2011-12 version of the team did much of the same. Just as those Yao-less teams eventually flamed out, this year's team ran out of firepower without Martin.

There is no denying that Courtney Lee is a more well-rounded player than Kevin Martin. In fact, I'd expect the Rockets to hold onto Lee to be the long-term starter at the shooting guard position (barring an upgrade in the draft or by trade). But next year, having had a full off-season to get healthy and acquainted to Kevin McHale's offense, I have no doubt that Kevin Martin can be a consistent 20 points per game scorer next year.

Would I trade him if it got the Rockets needed to make space for an elite free agent? If a team offered a lottery pick for him? Without a doubt, but I don't anticipate a deal like that to be on the table for the Rockets. While he's still a Rocket, let's not forget that he's a pretty damn good player as well.

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