Team Transition: Rockets, Kevin Martin in NBA Purgatory
Tuesday night was the first time in Kevin Martin's career he went scoreless when starting. With an efficient and relatively prolific scorer like Martin, that's not only a rare occurrence, it's downright shocking. While Martin has had his ups and downs this season, the thought that he would see only 18 minutes of action in a losing effort on the road against the Grizzlies is pretty odd, particularly considering he is clearly the Rockets' best option on offense.
Unfortunately for Martin, this is how things work for the 2012 Houston Rockets. They are a fun bunch to watch at times -- other times, painful -- and an easy group of players to root for. But the truth is they aren't very good. They have a decent record thus far, but that should even out as they play better teams and no one expects them to make noise in the playoffs because they don't have a go-to star, something of a near requirement for success in the NBA.
Management is clearly looking toward the future. They have set themselves up to clear a boatload of salary for an offseason that has some marquee names on the market. They have stockpiled assets and trade commodities, doing whatever they could to get younger and more flexible. They've tried to load up on draft picks as well.
But, that leaves them and Martin in a tough spot this season.
Coach Kevin McHale is the kind of guy sports fans say they want for their teams. He's tough. He doesn't take a lot of crap from players. He demands players play the right way and play hard or he puts them on the bench, no matter what their salary figure or tenure with the team. Martin fell victim to that philosophy last night.
The problem with this mentality is that, while we fans may clamor for tough players who work hard, we'd mostly prefer to win. And to win in the NBA means putting your best players on the floor. Sure, you can win with your bench playing the majority of the minutes on any given night during the regular season, but your core group of talent better be in your starting lineup when the real games start in April and May.
Martin may not be the Rockets' most well-rounded player -- that's Kyle Lowry -- but he is their most efficient scorer and for them to succeed, he must be a part of the offense.
I've wondered since the start of the season if the failed three-way trade that would have sent Martin packing to net the Rockets Pau Gasol would weigh on the Rockets' two guards during the season. He was clearly upset when the trade failed and open about that in training camp, while Luis Scola -- one of the other key pieces to the deal -- seemed to quickly rebound.
Everyone handles things differently, and I have to wonder if Martin is just playing out the string on a mediocre team hoping he'll get moved to some other team by the trade deadline or in the offseason.
If his uneven play is any indication of his unhappiness about the situation, the Rockets should move him, but General Manager Daryl Morey is going to be cautious with every move because he knows this offseason could be the most important in a very long time.
That may be in the best interest of the franchise, but it likely means the team and Martin will remain in NBA purgatory the rest of the year.