March 01, 2011
The Denver Nuggets changed the face of their organization in a brief moment last week, trading Carmelo Anthony(notes) and Chauncey Billups(notes) for Danilo Gallinari(notes), Wilson Chandler(notes), Raymond Felton(notes), Timofey Mozgov(notes), and a box of 1990 SkyBox basketball cards. OK, that last item may not have been involved, but no one can deny that it would've helped sweeten the pot.
In that deal, though, the team was left with a leadership void. It needed someone to step up and take control of the locker room. And that person, somewhat surprisingly, has been impending free agent Kenyon Martin(notes). From Mark Kiszla for the Denver Post:
Martin is the true grit of the new Nuggets. He refused to accept losing with the departure of Anthony and Billups.
"Why would I think that way? If I think that way, I might as well shut it down," Martin said. "I miss Melo. I miss Chauncey. I love them to death. But it's about us who are here now."
This role is all the more fascinating because Martin could have been the first to check out emotionally from the Nuggets. In the final season of a seven-year, $90 million deal that often has put him under suspicion as one of the more overpaid players in the league, the 33-year-old power forward has zero indication that Denver wants him beyond this season.
Martin would qualify for the role of leader if only by seniority, but teams typically want their leaders to be in town for more than a few months. In an odd situation like this one, though, where the team's best players are either foreign or fresh off the plane, perhaps a steward is the right way to go. If Martin wants to help this team get homecourt advantage for the first round of the playoffs, then he should be the guy to serve as motivator.
However, I have to take issue with Kiszla's take that Martin is somehow being totally selfless with this decision. Yes, K-Mart could very well check out and look toward free agency, but that seems to be a fool's errand with a lockout approaching. At 33 years old with an injury history, Martin can't sell himself in free agency as an athletic defender. He needs to be seen as a solid locker-room presence who can also contribute on the court. Becoming the Nuggets' leader in their time of need is exactly the right way to do that.
I don't mean to suggest that Martin is acting like some kind of selfish jerk here -- playing this role obviously helps the team. But decisions are rarely entirely selfless, even when they appear to help the group more than the individual. Martin gains a lot from becoming this team's leader even when he'll be out the door in a few months. His interests just happen to align with those of the Nuggets.