The NBA, first and foremost, is a business, and for the first few months of this upcoming season, the Rockets' Kevin Martin will most assuredly feel basketball's business brass buckle the good ol' business seatbelt around his waste and pull it tight until it hurts.
Martin is on the chopping block and make no mistake — he will be chopped. He has an expiring contract, or "trade bait" in the NBA business world, a contract Daryl Morey tried his best to trade away right when the market for Martin peaked. And for whatever reason — perhaps resentment, injury, rule changes or just a rough shooting year — Martin returned to the Rockets to showcase one of the more forgettable 17-point-per-game seasons that I can recall. Speed Racer simply lost his speed.
So now Martin hangs helplessly in player purgatory, waiting for the endgame to reveal itself, and there is nothing he can do to speed up the process. Basketball is now one-hundred-percent business for Kevin. He won't earn a championship ring in Houston — now he's simply earning a paycheck, like an accountant or a chef or a cashier at a grocery store. And obviously, Kevin's paycheck towers — TOWERS — over the others. But so too do his job requirements, especially away from the court. The idea of working nine to five may be exiting the workplace, but for Martin, that was never an option. He's been working this job his whole life — most likely a specialized and limited life outside of basketball once he got really good — and once it became his life, it took over his life. The fantasy, the mystery, the intrigue of joining a team that really wants you in order to try to lead it to a championship? That's what keeps players working until the early hours in the morning. That's what allows players to lend themselves to basketball's overbearing, mammoth requirement list. And that's what Kevin Martin has totally lost in Houston.
Billboards spring up around town without Martin's face. The media raves about Houston's rookies before ever mentioning his name. Can you believe it? Kevin Martin has nearly become an afterthought after leading his team in scoring. How often does that happen?
Actually, it has already happened in Houston, back when the Rockets still owned the rights to Tracy McGrady before they shipped him out for a package that brought Martin to town. I quote my high school history teacher all the time, but I'll say it again: Man learns from history that man has learned nothing from history. We're right back in the Critical Chair, taking pot shots at one of the best players still on the Rockets if only because he has likely exited his prime.
As paying fans, we're certainly entitled to take those shots. And McGrady literally stood up and asked for it, there's no way of getting around that. But let's try to hold off this year on Martin. Really. Let's give him a chance to enjoy basketball and play his way into a good trade that could help both parties. Everyone will benefit if Martin starts off the year scoring twenty points per game, so let's give him the extra confidence boost he needs to do it. If Martin makes a good impression, the Rockets will get better returns from, let's say, a playoff team desperately seeking wing scoring, and Martin could possibly get his chance at a title chase. Who are we to say he shouldn't?
Perhaps the perils of purgatory can now turn into perks. Martin gets his chance to play for something special: a way out, a path away from Houston to a team that wants him and needs him. Despite how screwed up it sounds, if that's what can motivate Martin to turn on the jets this year, so be it.
Kevin Martin can still score efficiently, whether or not you want to admit it. It's not the historically potent efficiency we saw two years ago, but 17 points on 13 shots is nothing to cry about, especially if it came during what anyone would call an off-year.
I think the biggest key to Martin's success is his health. We really don't know exactly when he injured his shoulder, but you could tell just by watching him, the rule changes didn't limit his free throw attempts as much as he limited them himself. He didn't drive with the same confidence and power, likely a result of his bum shoulder. If he's fully healthy entering this season, I'd expect his free throw numbers to jump back to around 6 to 7 per game, and for his shooting stroke to return to the high thirties from three-point range.
You don't have to root for Martin with the same fervor and intensity that you did when he first joined Houston. That's not what I'm saying at all. But let's limit the awkwardness as much as a group of fans possibly can. Let's hope Martin plays to his full potential, and let's hope he does so in a way that makes other teams think to themselves what we once thought: How good can this guy be in the right system, and for what price can we make that happen?
Put it this way: The more everyone fakes it and pretends nothing is weird or wrong — the fans, Martin, the coaching staff — the more everyone will gain. A few months of smiles and high scoring from a certain someone could parlay big returns for both sides. That's what we're rooting for at this point, Rockets fans, so embrace it.
Forecast: I think Martin starts every game he plays with Houston and scores nineteen points per game, grabs three boards per game and dishes two assists per game before being traded at the deadline. Jeremy Lamb can wait.