BY: HIREN JOSHI
What’s wrong with Kevin Martin?
The Houston Rockets faced the Memphis Grizzlies in front of a measly 13,000 fans at the FedEx Forum on Tuesday night. The small crowd that showed up left with smiles on their faces, as the Grizzlies steadily controlled the Rockets all night long, ending in a 93-83 victory for the home team.
The loss was ugly, but the real story was eight-year veteran Kevin Martin. If you missed the game, you may think I have something impressive to say about Martin’s offense, and/or something depressing to say about Martin’s defense. That’s usually how it plays out right?
Well, what happens when a one-dimensional player loses his only dimension?
Martin played nearly 19 minutes, took three shots (all missed), attempted no free throws and ended the night with a big, fat goose egg.
Martin, against the savvy defensive play of journeyman Tony Allen, was far from his 31.4-point average he had against the Grizzlies last year.
The maddening part is this is, more or less, how it’s been all this season.
Martin, who’s averaging his lowest point-per-game total since the 2005-06 season, looks far from the consistent offensive player we know him to be. At 17.7 points per game this season, Martin has slowly sunk into the abyss, with many wondering if he’ll be able to climb out sooner than later.
The Rockets just finished a six-game road trip that tipped off February, and Martin has not made life much easier for this team.
Here’s a quick rundown:
Feb. 1- Rockets @ Spurs: 35 minutes, 29 points, 10-21 shooting.
Feb. 3- Suns @ Rockets: 17 minutes, 16 points, 6-9 shooting.
Feb. 4- Rockets @ Minnesota: 31 minutes, 2 points, 1-10 shooting.
Feb. 6- Rockets @ Denver: 22 minutes, 8 points, 1-9 shooting.
Feb 8- Rockets @ Portland: 15 minutes, 4 points, 2-5 shooting.
Feb 9- Rockets @ Phoenix: 13 minutes, 2 points, 1-2 shooting.
Feb 12- Rockets @ Golden State: 34 minutes, 28 points, 7-16 shooting.
Feb 14- Rockets @ Memphis: 18 minutes, 0 points, 0-3 shooting.
Martin, he of the career 18.5 point scoring average on 44 percent shooting, has had a rough month, to say the least. Granted, the Rockets’ bench has stepped up significantly – meaning it’s easier to sit Martin and not let him play things out – and first-year head coach Kevin McHale has adopted a rotation by committee this season, but Martin has given no definitive reason to his struggles.
One can only assume that the trade commissioner David Stern vetoed earlier in the year that would have eventually sent Kevin Martin and Luis Scola to the Hornets may be lurking in the back of Kevin Martin’s mind. He was disappointed when it was even mentioned. And while he said the right things, his body language and performance has suggested that it’s possible he’s not at all over the slight.
“Everybody’s looking to improve the team,” Martin said at the time of the trade. “He (Rockets GM Daryl Morey) felt like that was the way to improve the team, more power to him and the organization. At the end of the day, if you’re still on the team, you’ve got to come in here and act like a professional and help the team get better.”
In Martin’s defense, it was an awkward situation, and while the phrase “it’s a business” is thrown around, it certainly seems like he has taken it to heart as the season has developed. And he’s not alone. Even the Mavs’ Lamar Odom still has not returned to his ways after he was emotionally distraught from being traded from the Lakers.
It’s a weak attitude to have, but Martin has never come off as a boisterous player. He doesn’t show much emotion, he doesn’t exude leadership qualities and he certainly doesn’t demand the ball down the stretch of games. Martin seems to take the game in stride, and it hasn’t always helped his reputation among fans and critics.
Another presumption may be the post-Rick Adelman syndrome. When the Rockets acquired Kevin Martin a couple years ago, Adelman’s offense was the primary focus, an offense that Martin bought into when he was a rookie back in 2004-05 with the Sacramento Kings. With McHale, Martin has found himself trying to adapt into a new scheme of offense and a much more demanding emphasis on defense. Even with Martin struggling, McHale hasn’t gone out of his way to make things easier schematically for his star.
With Adelman, Martin was the offense. With McHale, he’s just another piece of the puzzle.
The question at this point is how will the Rockets deal with Martin? A distraction like the Tracy McGrady saga is the last thing this team needs. Morey is not afraid to make moves, and if Martin continues to struggle, how long will Morey wait to shake things up?
This thing is headed in the wrong direction. Martin’s production is plummeting. He’s said to be cool with “chilling” and not forcing things when shots aren’t dropping, another point of frustration considering he doesn’t exactly provide a lot in other facets of the game. McHale seems nonchalant about it, if not coldly realistic, saying Martin will play more when he plays better.
Twenty-nine games into the season, the Rockets may have a bit of a drama on their hands. Here’s what we do know: The trade deadline is March 15. Our answer will come no later than then.