SAN FRANCISCO – Kevin Durant helped Kevin Martin feel at home after the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden for Martin before the season started. Reassuring and welcoming phone calls from Durant and Kendrick Perkins helped ease any worries Martin had. But what could keep Martin in a Thunder uniform long-term is Oklahoma City itself.
More money. A familiar leading role. Bigger city. All those pluses are likely available to Martin in free agency this summer. But if the Thunder offer a fair deal, Martin says he prefers to re-sign with the small-market winner than do his due diligence in free agency. Playing with Durant and Russell Westbrook is a bonus, too.
"This summer, hopefully everything works out here," Martin told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday. "I haven't said that too often. But I will put it out there; hopefully I have found a home in the NBA. I love playing with this group of guys. The organization is great to me. The community has been great to me. It's the happiest I have been during my NBA career."
Martin will approach the $60 million career earnings mark after this season. He is netting $12.4 million in the final year of his contract and is open to signing at a fair price for the winning and happiness of OKC. But can the Thunder afford to keep him, even at a discount with their luxury tax concerns?
"We will handle anything contractual at the appropriate time when the season is concluded," Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. "We certainly are pleased with [Martin] and excited about how he has fit in and how hard he has worked to fit in."
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The small-town life makes Martin comfortable. He is proud to be born and raised in Zanesville, Ohio, which has a population of about 25,500. He played college ball at Western Carolina University, in tinier Cullowhee, N.C., which has less than half of Zanesville's population. From 2004-10, Martin also played for the small-market Sacramento Kings before being traded to the Houston Rockets.
"I'm enjoying life now," Martin said. "In Houston and Sacramento, I probably didn't get out too much. It's fun just interacting with [Oklahomans]. It's such a community feel. That's what I love about the whole situation. The city itself, I feel like an Ohio boy here so I feel at home. Oklahoma City just reminds me of Ohio."
An NBA-best 33-10 record is another reason Martin is excited to be with Oklahoma City after all the lackluster seasons he's been a part of. OKC played more than three times as many playoff games last season en route to the NBA Finals (20) as Martin has his entire nine-year NBA career. He has never been on a team that won more than 50 games. While Martin has scored nearly 10,000 points in his career, his lack of winning previously helps him appreciate the good times now.
Martin's NBA fortunes changed in a hotel room in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 27 when he received a phone call from his agent, Dan Fegan, that he was dealt. He liked playing for the Rockets, was excited about joining Jeremy Lin in the backcourt and had mixed emotions about the trade. After being a starter for most of his career, Martin also knew he'd be coming off the bench with Oklahoma City.
"I knew what type of situation I was going into and that it was a perfect time for my career to be on a contending team in the middle of my prime," Martin said.
Harden averaged 16.8 points last season, was the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year and won an Olympic gold medal with Durant and Westbrook. Martin didn't worry about the basketball part as he averaged 18.4 points for his career. He was concerned about whether he'd be accepted by his new teammates after the popular Harden's departure.
"I didn't want to come in and mess what they had up," Martin said.
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The phone calls from Durant and Perkins helped Martin "breathe a little bit."
"I wanted to make him come in and be as comfortable as he can and make his transition smooth," Durant said. "As the leader of the team, I feel obligated to do so. I just told him welcome, we were looking forward to having him."
Martin averages 15 points in 30 minutes per game off the bench while ranking first in the NBA in free-throw percentage (.912) and shooting 43.9 percent from 3-point range. Quickly comfortable in his reserve role, Martin is a potential candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
"He can play in any type of system," Durant said. "He doesn't need the ball to be effective. He can play off guys so well. He can shoot the ball, drive the ball, get to the free-throw line. He plays so well off of Russell, Serge [Ibaka] and myself that he's fit in."
The Thunder traded Harden because they couldn't meet his financial demands. (Harden turned down a four-year, $54 million deal from the Thunder.) OKC is just below the luxury tax this season. Durant will make $17.8 million in the 2013-14 season while Westbrook will make $14.6 million. If Martin can't be re-signed, the Thunder can turn to a much cheaper option in rookie Jeremy Lamb, who will make $2.1 million next season.
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For now, Martin sees only one place in his future.
"This is my spot," Martin said, "hopefully."
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