K-Mart heads to China, not looking back

Kenyon Martin will make $2.7 million playing in China for the Flying Tigers this season

Regardless of whether the NBA season starts on time, former Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin(notes) is at peace with his decision to play in China.

Martin planned to test the NBA's free-agent market, but the league's ongoing lockout forced him to consider overseas options. The 11-year veteran signed a one-year, $2.7 million contract with the Chinese Basketball Association’s Xinjiang Gyang Hui in late September. Even if the lockout ends, Martin won't be able to return to the NBA until the Flying Tigers' season ends, possibly as late as May.

“I’m a grown man. Nobody is forcing me to do it," Martin said of his decision. "I don’t need the money. It ain’t about the money. The money is great, but I don’t need it.

"I know the situation. I know there is a possibility that the lockout could end soon. There is a possibility it can’t. No one knows."

Two of Martin's former Nuggets teammates are also playing in China this season: J.R. Smith(notes) and Wilson Chandler(notes). Denver will have to replace all three in free agency and also could lose starting center Nene, a pending free agent who has already turned down one contract extension offer from the Nuggets.

Martin was interested in signing a contract extension with the Nuggets last season, but was never made an offer. His age (33) and recent history of injuries contributed to the Nuggets' reluctance. Denver then drafted forwards Kenneth Faried(notes) and Jordan Hamilton(notes) in the first round.

"That’s their problem," Martin said of the Nuggets' free-agent challenges. "They made that bed. Guess what? Let them lie in it. I had some good times. I enjoyed my seven years. I enjoyed the Denver fans. But they made the decision.”

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Martin has previously visited China, but had never been to Urumqi where the Flying Tigers play in an arena with 6,000 seats. Urumqi has a population of around 2.5 million with most of the citizens primarily speaking Mandarin. To help Martin's transition, the team has given him an interpreter, a driver, security, a chef and several plane tickets for his family and friends to use to visit. The team also hired Martin's personal manager, Brad Morris. Martin is in Urumqi this week to look at homes.

"There is not a whole lot to do," Martin said, “It’s just about basketball. The city is small. But there is enough modern-day technology where I’m not going to miss out on too much going on in the world.

“I’m not putting my life in jeopardy. I’m not going to prison. I’m not doing something that’s going to hurt me, I don’t think. So, I’m open-minded about it.”

Martin said he kept up with the latest developments in negotiations between NBA players and owners before deciding to play in China. After missing 191 games in the past six seasons – largely because of injuries – Martin didn't want to sit out anymore.

“The deciding factor was the basketball,” Martin said. “I’m 33 and I will be 34 in December. Everybody knows I’m not getting any younger. I want to play. I start getting that itch about this time of the year, and I want to play.

"And I’m able to now. Last year I was coming off [knee] surgery and I wasn’t able to play in the beginning of the season. So now that I’m healthy and I can go out and play, I’m going to play.”

Martin also is joining a successful team. The Flying Tigers have advanced to the CBA finals the past three years without winning. Former NBA players Quincy Douby(notes) and Mengke Bateer also are on the roster. Former NBA assistant Bob Donewald is the coach.

Donewald "spoke to me, and he was very honest about the city, the situation, everything,” Martin said. “He said they were about basketball. They were about winning. You know me, I ain’t going to go into no losing situation. I could have stayed here and chilled for that."

If Xinjiang returns to the CBA finals, Martin won't be able to return until after the first round of the NBA playoffs has started. Still, he's confident some team will have need for him.

“I’m going to help somebody win,” Martin said. “I’m not going to go somewhere and sit on that bench. That’s not going to happen. I’m going somewhere where I can contribute. I’m not going to sign on to sign on just to be on a bandwagon."


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