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NBA PM: Kenyon Martin Nears a Decision
Posted By Eric Pincus On February 2, 2012 @ 6:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Unrestricted free agent forward Kenyon Martin has been given FIBA clearance to join the NBA after an awkward attempt to play overseas during the lockout.
Martin signed with the Xingjang Flying Tigers for what was the biggest contract in CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) history in September but left the team in December, hoping to return to the NBA.
The CBA ruled that American-born players would not be issued a Letter of Clearance to return to the NBA until their respective team’s season was concluded.
Martin, however, was granted release early on Thursday, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports after China “failed to respond to a request for Letter of Clearance.”
The Los Angeles Clippers have significant interest in Martin, given his ability to play multiple positions defensively (including two-guard). Guard Chauncey Billups has been recruiting his former Denver Nuggets teammate for some time.
Of course, according to an NBA source, Billups is not alone in trying to sway Martin with stars Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady and a number of others also plying Martin’s ear.
The Clippers have already met with Martin’s representation. Reports have Kenyon in initial meetings on Thursday with the Atlanta Hawks.
LA can offer Martin their $2.5 million Room Exception and an available roster spot. The Clippers have emerged as one the best teams in the Western Conference, already beating teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami HEAT, Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers.
The Hawks still have their full Mid-Level Exception (MLE) but given they’re a tiny margin over the tax threshold, spending has been a concern for the team.
With the loss of Al Horford (shoulder), Martin would have the opportunity for significant minutes on a solid 16-6 team in the East. Technically if Atlanta wanted to save their MLE, they would regain their Bi-Annual Exception by getting under the tax (perhaps by waiving Jerry Stackhouse).
The Lakers are also a consideration for Martin, although LAL can offer just the veteran’s minimum ($1.4 million) compared to $2.5 million from the Clippers or up to $5 million from the Hawks (although they won’t go that high). All those figures would naturally be prorated given more than a third of the season has elapsed.
Naturally the Miami HEAT have a shot at just about any vet looking to make a title run. Expect Martin’s tour to continue to South Beach before a decision is made although the HEAT have as much spending power as the Lakers.
The New York Knicks are somewhat of a long shot, despite Anthony’s urging to Martin, given how desperate the team has been at guard. JR Smith is expected to be the next China export to make his return and could garner the team’s remaining Room Exception.
The San Antonio Spurs can offer their $3 million Mini-MLE to Martin as well.
Given that Martin got clearance from FIBA, he could end up signed with an NBA team as early as the start of next week.
Lakers Finding a Rotation?
The Lakers have had their share of troubles this year, most notably winning on the road where they’re just 2-7 (compared to 11-2 at STAPLES Center).
Injuries, suspensions and general uncertainty have led Coach Mike Brown to tinker continually with the starting lineup and overall rotation.
Now on a two-game winning streak (and three of the last four), Brown may have found something workable in the absence of backup point guard Steve Blake (still a few weeks away with a rib/cartilage injury).
The biggest change is Metta World Peace moving to the starting lineup in place of Matt Barnes (who replaced the opening-night starter Devin Ebanks).
Peace was supposed to anchor the bench’s offensive attack with his post play but struggled. Now Brown will turn to Andrew Bynum as the anchor for the reserves, carefully managing his minutes as a starter to work with the second unit.
‘We’re going with Drew obviously with the second group and Drew is getting the ball in the post so we feel like Troy [Murphy] is a great space guy, not only that if he’s out there with [Andrew] Goudelock they can play pick and pop or we can play inside out through Andrew and Troy’s ability to knock down the three keeps the floor spread.”
That’s taken free agent forward Josh McRoberts temporarily out of the rotation.
“As long as Troy keeps trying to defend, trying to rebound, I think he’s earned the minutes to play and if we go back to Pau [Gasol], now it’s a little different. Maybe now Josh is probably a better combination with Pau, I’m not sure but with Pau spacing the floor and playing the post, Josh’s activity, maybe those two guys work better together if they’re with the second unit. It’s part of the process that I’m talking about, getting a feel for the best combinations.”
So if Bynum is on the bench in foul trouble or Gasol is having a bigger night, McRoberts is likely to get the backup power forward minutes (with Gasol sliding to the five).
What’s really made the bench work the last four games has been the play of rookie guard Goudelock at the point, a position he didn’t play in college.
“I’ve never played point guard before. This was my fourth game playing point guard and I feel like I’m getting into a good rhythm as far as getting the team involved and running the plays,” said Goudelock on Monday after the Laker win over the Charlotte Bobcats. “I’m not doing everything perfect, I’ll make some mistakes but it’s not the mistakes that you’ve got to worry about. You’ve got to focus on what you’re doing good and build off that. I think I’m doing an OK job of doing that right now.”
Brown initially didn’t expect to try Andrew at the point the team was struggling while helmed by 21-year old rookie Darius Morris. Designated shooter Jason Kapono has been filling in as the two.
“If you think about, our bench’s point production hasn’t been great. I tried to play [Goudelock] (early in the season with Steve Blake) as a two-guard with the second unit,” said Brown. “To have a guy that can just go get a shot, just play pick and roll . . . and go create a shot for yourself or a teammate, that’s pretty neat to have.”
When the Lakers get Blake back, perhaps the transition will work well with Goudelock at shooting guard but part of what’s working is giving him the ball and letting him probe and create with it.
Andrew has veteran teammates like Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace urging him to play his game as a scorer first and foremost.
“For a young guy having these veterans encourage me like they has helped my confidence even more,” said Goudelock.
Since getting the nod at point guard, Andrew has averaged 11.5 points a game while shooting 50% from the field (57.1% from three). On Monday he recorded a career-high three assists and while he’d like to improve his dime creation, perhaps more importantly over 21 minutes a night in the four-game stretch, he’s averaged just a single turnover.
‘[Opponents] have to pick their poison with Bynum. If we throw it to the post, they can’t really double cause if they double, you’ve got Murph, myself and Kapono and then you’ve got Matt slashing, it’s kind of hard for them to double [Bynum] because somebody is going to get that shot and we move the ball well together,” said Goudelock. “I think we’ve found a good rhythm with that second team and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Andrew has also found a workable two-man game with face-up big Murphy.
“He sets a pick, I mean they’ve got to pick their poison because if they leave me open or they switch, you’ve got a mismatch,” said Goudelock. “If they both go with me and try to show, Murph gonna knock it down. They gotta kind of pick their poison and we saw that it was working last game so it’s something we want to go to a lot. It’s going to be tough for teams to guard that because Murph doesn’t miss a lot of shots.”
Goudelock has a reputation as a potent three-point shooter. He’s also shown an accurate floater that appears to be his go-to move off the dribble.
“The shots that I take are pretty hard shots to block. I don’t take a bunch of wild shots,” said the Laker guard. “I’m still young so sometimes I do take bad shots but it’s pretty hard for somebody to block a floater, that’s why I do it. And wide open three’s – they’re wide open.”
Listed as 6’3″, Goudelock is 6’3″ like former Laker guard Shannon Brown is 6’4″.
“Shannon Brown is not 6’4″,” said Goudelock. “I might be like 6’1″.”
Once thing the rookie is not lacking in is confidence.
“I got drafted, what 46?” asked Andrew. “I think I’m as good as everybody in that draft.”
“I thought I was good as anybody when we was going through the combine and doing everything,” continued Goudelock. “Just because I went to College of Charleston that might have hurt me a little bit but you know what people didn’t realize is that we played against big teams, really big teams and I did well.”
The next test for the Lakers will be taking it on the road, where bench units often under-perform. They’ll play six straight starting in Denver on Friday and finishing on the following Sunday in Toronto. In between they’ll see Utah, Philadelphia, Boston and New York.
With the strong play of Goudelock do the Lakers sit and wait to see what Blake’s eventual return will bring, assuming that a rookie in Goudelock can maintain this level of production?
“I think, you obviously like your team and I do feel confident that we can win with this team, but I think we would be doing a disservice to ourselves . . . if we don’t keep trying to find ways to get better,” said Coach Brown. “No matter who is out there or what we’re doing or any time of the day or year, I think you’ve always got to try to get better.”
The Lakers have reached out to free agent Gilbert Arenas. They’re talking to teams to gauge what they can get for their trade exception ($8.9 million) and draft picks. Ramon Sessions of the Cleveland Cavaliers is one name widely reported.
The team may concern bigger moves, especially when the Orlando Magic see what’s available for Dwight Howard after the All-Star Break. Additionally, the Lakers did try to trade Pau Gasol before the season (for Chris Paul), so nothing should be considered out of bounds as the team looks to maintain their competitiveness while avoiding any sort of lengthy rebuilding process.
“I don’t think you say OK we have Steve Blake coming back so we don’t need to do anything the rest of the year,” said Brown. “If there’s an opportunity to get better, I think every team in the NBA is that way. If there’s an opportunity to get better at any time, you go do that.
Bobcats a Struggle
At full strength the Charlotte Bobcats were not going to have a great year. Their margin for error was slim but then players like D.J. Augustin, Corey Maggette, Reggie Williams, D.J. White, Tyrus Thomas and Eduardo Najera suffered varying degrees of injury and the team quickly rode off the rails.
At 3-20, they are best positioned for a number one pick in what could be a tremendous 2012 NBA Draft. That’s a polite way of saying they have the worst record in the league.
Coach Paul Silas (68 years old) was open about his feelings through this year’s struggle.
“It’s been killing me. It really has,” said Silas. “I like to win. It just does your heart good to win but we haven’t had the team to win and I understand that. Any time you’re in the rebuilding mode you have to be patient. I tell these guys you have to be patient but you have to be positive. I’ve still kept a positive attitude but sleeping at night and that kind of thing, even at my age [laughing], and when you don’t have to have it – but I love the game and I love what I’m doing and I think in the future we’re going to be very good.”
Of course the Bobcats have seemingly been rebuilding since their inaugural 2004/5 season, maxing out in 2009/10 at 44 wins and a first-round sweep in their lone playoff appearance.
“It’s very difficult and I tell the guys, all I expect them to do is work hard every night and give me their all and I’ll accept that. Wins and losses are going to take care of themselves,” said Silas. “We’re not very strong right now. Any time you put a group of guys together that haven’t been together long, it’s going to take time and we understand that. But these guys are playing all out and I tell them this, “This is a blessing for you because when the other guys do come back, I’ll put you guys in, you’re going to be ready. You’re going to be more ready and have more confidence, so take advantage of this right now and they are.”
Guard Henderson, who is having his best individual season statistically, tried to keep it upbeat, “It seems like every game we get a new guy back. Hopefully as we get more acclimated to each other, things will start improving more.”
Reggie Williams, signed as a free agent to provide perimeter scoring, finally made his season debut this week after nursing a knee injury.
“It’s been a while, just sitting back watching and learn how these guys play and try to take advantage of watching them and now I’ve got the opportunity to play and use what I learned from watching them,” said Williams.
Is it going to take him a minute to catch up?
“Yeah, an hour on that,” said Williams. “As the season goes on they’ll work me in.”
Meanwhile Silas is trying to figure out if Kemba Walker, drafted ninth out of the University of Connecticut, is capable of playing point guard at the NBA level.
“He’s progressing very well but it takes time, even for him. Before all he was doing was shooting the basketball, not looking to pass at all. Now, he’s looking to distribute mainly I guess because he’s playing the point and we didn’t really realize he can do it as well as he can,” said Silas. “So it remains to be seen if he’s going to be a point or not, but at least he did the job the other night. A triple-double [against the Washington Wizards] is just out of this world for a player his size [6'1"]. He’s not afraid to go in and back and get some rebounds and that kind of thing, it’s just phenomenal his brain power and the way he wants to play this game.”
Walker is averaging 11.9 points, 3.6 assists and 2.0 turnovers in 27.5 minutes per game. He’s struggled to acclimate, shooting just 36.2% but then it hasn’t exactly been an easy environment for a rookie to step into, given no Summer League, short training camp, rapid schedule and, in the case of the Bobcats, a constantly fluctuating rotation due to injury.
“I’m definitely feeling a little more comfortable,” said Walker, trying to shed a positive spin on the season thus far. “I’m just trying to make the right decisions with the basketball, and the last few games I’ve been doing that.”
Note that quote was after his 12-point, six-assist, six-rebound performance against the Lakers and not his four-point, 1-11 shooting night on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Silas is obviously struggling with the season so far but he remains optimistic that Kemba will develop into a high-level NBA player eventually.
“He’s just has it in him,” said Silas. “He’s going to be tremendous one of these days.”
UPDATE: The Bobcats announced on Thursday that Henderson will now be sidelined for 2-4 weeks with a hamstring strain.
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