Kevin Martin glares at Kevin McHale, probably (Getty Images)For whatever reason, several of the league's more entertaining players have fallen off in recent years. Be it due to injury, confidence issues, rotation frustrations, a poor fit, or general ennui in a profession that can get tiresome, these players have disappointed of late. For the next few weeks, we're going to take a look at a list of familiar names that haven't produced familiar games over the last few years. Or, at least players that have produced games that we don't want to be in the habit of familiarizing ourselves with.
Houston Rockets fans can hold out hope that the team's cadre of talented assets and intriguing options could be tossed around the NBA to one or two or three teams in a combination that could net the Rockets a star, but so far the combinations just haven't been in their favor. Which is a bummer, because the team's front office has been quite creative, it's dealt with a terrible batch of bad luck over the last 14 years (remember, it wasn't just Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady's bodies that broke down), and the rabid fan base deserves more than a pretty good team that sometimes gets the extra wins needed to actually make the playoffs in the Western conference.
The hope now, as Houston shifts from one trading season into another, is that the team could glom onto to either a desperate squad during training camp (unlikely), or make that anticipated Big Move close to February's trade deadline. And for any Big Move to bring in a Big Player, Kevin Martin's expiring contract worth over $12 million would have to be involved. The Rockets do have some current cap flexibility, even with over 20 players (!) on the team's current roster, but any team hoping to dump a top star and a potential cap millstone along the way would probably have to take Martin in return. If only for a third of the season.
Which means, probably, another year of limbo for Kevin Martin. Which stinks, even if part of it is a result of his own play.
If not his own design. You never got the feeling, save for the few months between acquiring Martin and Yao Ming's retirement, that Rockets GM Daryl Morey was keen on Martin's all-around game. Because Martin could draw fouls and spread the floor, a pairing with the equally free throw-proficient Yao could have worked wonders. A lot of things could have worked wonders with Yao Ming healthy. But it's almost as if Martin went from "cornerstone" to "asset" the moment Yao retired for good in the summer of 2011.
Sad, all around, especially as we look at Martin's decline last season. 2010-11 wasn't bad, all his numbers were around the norm including those eight and a half free throws a contest made at an 89 percent clip, but the lockout year was a waste. Martin clashed with coach Kevin McHale, his already-dodgy defense seemed even more lead-footed, and his per-minute free throw attempts nearly halved. The three-point shooting also dipped below average, as all the important things that Martin did to justify that lacking defense seemed to slip away along with his minutes and relevance.
Geez, that was harsh. It doesn't have to stay that way, though. Martin doesn't have to go into 2012-13 with "Trade Bait" stitched into his uniform. His business card doesn't have to read "Makin' things cap-legal since 2010." He shouldn't even have to own a business card.
He could just come out and fire away a lot. The Rockets are rebuilding, but with so many strange parts running behind Jeremy Lin and McHale running the show even this odd collective could turn out to be one of the NBA's most entertaining watches. And even though we've been watching Martin's off-ball machinations for years, and there aren't a lot of wrinkles to make new again, that's not what we're after. We're after potency at the shooting guard position, something that's rarer and rarer in today's NBA save for outposts in Los Angeles and Miami.
Martin turned 29 in February, he's gunning for a contract, the Rockets are gunning to show him off, and with three cornerstone-ish types in Kevin, Lin, and Omer Asik you know Kevin McHale thinks this team has a chance to fight for a lower run playoff berth. We're not sure if we believe him, but the point here is that a nasty run from Martin could mean great things for all involved.
Of course, he'll need screens. And with Luis Scola in Phoenix after Morey amnestied his contract, he'll be reliant on a series of young forwards and Asik to spring him open. Asik sets a good screen, but he also commits a good foul; and he might be gun shy to stick his rear end out from time to time so as not to pick up offensive fouls on a team that is hoping to get 32 minutes a night out of its new center. Still, any bit will have to help, as Martin badly needs to up those free throw rates all over again.
McHale will have a tough gig on his hands this year, as things could get away from him. The frustration of a roster gone wild and the loss of Scola and Samuel Dalembert might mix with the tenuous nature of all those pre-February rumors, and we don't envy him despite all the current Rockets we like. He'll have to make amends with Martin, because the coach always has to be the bigger pro in this situation, and he'll have to convince his team that 2012-13 is worth playing for.
And we'll have to try and convince Kevin Martin the same, even if he's playing just to be shipped to another team for two months before finding yet another squad next July. Come back, please, and fire at will.