NBA PM: Kevin Martin Ready To Lead Houston?
Despite their best efforts, the Houston Rockets are once again a team in limbo as a new NBA season approaches. Yao Ming’s premature retirement set the Rockets back a decade, and having been unable to land a key free agent to take Yao’s place, the team is doing the inevitable.
It’s a dirty word among many of the long-suffering NBA fans in Houston, where the Rockets haven’t been able to contend since the days of Hakeem Olajuwon, but the cast of players set to take the stage when the new season starts is, at least, intriguing. Still, young teams don’t win without veteran leadership, and Kevin Martin will carry the bulk of that responsibility. For now, at least, he’s pointing to head coach Kevin McHale as the one who has to set the tone for this young Rockets team.
“I think that first and foremost, I think this is McHale’s team and we are just players,” Martin tells HOOPSWORLD. “He came in here and try to change the culture from the Adelman era and I’m the last man standing from that era. But I played for several different coaches before, succeeded under all of them, so I’m just trying to help these guys get as many wins as possible.”
There is a great deal of hype surrounding the arrival of Jeremy Lin this season, as well as an aura of anticipation and excitement about some of the young additions to the team. The buzz coming from some around the organization is that this team can compete with the Western Conference’s elite and fight for a playoff spot despite their youth and massive roster changeover. Don’t count Martin among those.
“No, no definitely not with the Lakers and the Thunder, teams like that,” Martin said. “They are experienced, veteran teams that have Hall of Famers, and we are not there. It’s going to be tough, so we are just going to have make up for it with energy and effort every night, and going out there and whatever McHale asks us to do is what we are going to do.”
Wherever the Rockets land this season, whether it’s in the playoffs or in the draft lottery, Martin will have to do the heavy lifting. It’s a challenge he welcomes, especially in a year where he has so much at stake. Playing in the final year of his contract, Martin will be playing for himself as much as for the team, and he welcomes the challenge of being the player opposing defenses prepare to stop. He also likes the depth and talent around him, however, and thinks there are plenty of guys to step up if he has an off night.
“Yeah, I think it is (a great challenge),” says Martin. “That’s what I work hard for in the summer, is going against defenses like (San Antonio Spurs) Coach Popovich and (Oklahoma City Thunder) Coach Brooks. That’s just a challenge that I always like, and I think that this year, when I need other guys to step up and take the scoring load off because there’s going to be nights when it’s not falling, we have some capable guys that can do that.”
Still, on a team this young and inexperienced, it’s going to take more guidance than a coaching staff can provide for the Rockets to mature on and off the court. Kevin Martin had some solid veterans to learn from as a rookie with the Sacramento Kings, and he plans to pay it forward.
“I always felt like, I think the best think about a leader is to lead by example,” Martin said.” It’s working hard before anybody gets to the court, being the last guy here, putting in long hours in the summer and just playing hard and that’s what kind of leader I am. I’m a leader by example and this year I’m going to help some new guys, pull them to the side, but never be a ‘ra-ra’ guy. I can always give them my knowledge like Bobby Jackson and Doug Christie gave me at their age.”
When the curtain lifts on the 2012-13 NBA season, Rockets fans can expect to see a very competitive team that falls short at the end of games, especially against veteran-laden playoff teams. That said, with Martin leading by example and offering the guidance that he was given as a young player, the young Rockets will have a fighting chance to grow up a little more quickly than many pundits anticipate.
Boozer’s Big Year
Carlos Boozer was supposed to be the missing piece in Chicago. When the Bulls lured him away from the Utah Jazz, where he and Deron Williams had put the Jazz back on the NBA map, Boozer was supposed to be the second piece of a dynamic duo, this time alongside Derrick Rose, that would put the Bulls back in contention for years to come.
The Bulls have been back in contention, alright, but Boozer has had little to do with that resurgence. In fact, the Bulls have become contenders again almost in spite of Boozer’s presence.
There are plenty of players who have a lot on the line at the start of any NBA season, and this year will be no difference. James Harden is trying to show that he’s worth a max contract, the aforementioned Kevin Martin is in a contract year, Atlanta’s Josh Smith, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans, the majority of the Dallas Mavericks’ roster, and a whole host of others need to have great seasons in order to maximize their earning potential next summer. In Boozer’s case, however, he needs to have a great year in order to avoid being the victim of an amnesty cut by the Bulls.
When Boozer made the jump from Utah, where he averaged roughly 20 points and 11 rebounds per game in the last three seasons when he was healthy, to Chicago, his production dropped off noticeably. A freak hand injury cost him much of his first season, but when he came back healthy he managed just 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Last season he appeared in all 66 games for the Bulls, but even with Rose out for part of the year, Boozer’s scoring dropped to 15.0 points per game to go along with 8.5 rebounds.
A dismal start to preseason won’t help the situation, especially with Taj Gibson coming on strong and eligible for a contract extension. Gibson’s averages aren’t nearly as good as Boozer’s, but he also played roughly 15 minutes fewer per game last season. If you look at Gibson’s per-48-minutes stats, he projects out to 18.0 points and 12.3 rebounds with a PER of 16.8 when playing power forward. The Bulls see those numbers and believe they can groom Gibson to start full time, amnesty Boozer, and use the resources to add depth at other positions going forward.
There’s no doubt that Carlos Boozer is still a very capable power forward, and perhaps he’s just not tailor made for the Chicago Bulls’ system. Whatever the case, if Boozer doesn’t want to find himself on the outside looking in at the end of the season, he had better find a way to play like he did in Utah, where he was considered one of the best power forwards in the NBA.
Crowder Impresses Early
The Dallas Mavericks opened preseason in Europe, and because of that their fans didn’t get to see the almost entirely revamped roster until the team played its preseason home opener on Monday night. O.J. Mayo was the big name, scoring 20 points in just 24 minutes in what was a break out game for him as a Maverick, but right behind him was surprising rookie Jae Crowder.
Crowder was the 34th pick in this summer’s NBA draft before being dealt to Dallas, and after looking like a men among boys in summer league play he delighted his new home fans to a 20-point outing. Crowder scored at ease, dropping 8-of-15 from the field and 4-of-7 from three-point land in just 15 minutes of play. The only thing he couldn’t hit was a free throw, going 0-for-5 from the charity stripe.
“It was a good moment for me to come out in front of the home crowd and play free,” Crowder said after the game. “The first group set the tone early in the second half so we just came in and played loose and played good basketball.”
It’s only preseason, of course, but Crowder put his best game on display in his first home game and believes he can continue to impress right away.
“It’s a dream come true to play in the NBA,” said Crowder. “I really stamped my NBA mark here and I can go up from here. I just need to keep working hard, let the moment last and get ready to come back and play hard tomorrow.”
In particular, Crowder’s three-point proficiency was a great sign, as that’s an area the Mavericks’ coaching staff has been working to expand. He saw very limited action in the Mavs’ first two preseason games and didn’t even attempt a three in either one.
“I came into camp knowing I had to improve on my outside shooting and be more consistent,” said Crowder. “To get minutes on this team I need to be able to stretch the floor and that’s what I’ve been trying to work on and that’s what the coaches have been working me with and trying to get better every day.”
No matter how well he plays in preseason, of course, it’s questionable how much time Crowder will see in Rick Carlisle’s regular rotation. Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones have had their moments, as well, but rarely see time when the games really matter. Crowder takes nothing for granted, however, and will stay ready, hoping for that next opportunity.
“It’s an honor to play for the Mavericks and to put on this uniform,” said Crowder. “You’re playing for those guys in the locker room and the organization. It’s a great feeling. I just want to give it my all every day.”
That’s the kind of attitude Carlisle likes, and it could earn Crowder more minutes . . .at least as preseason plays out.
HOOPSWORLD Season Previews
The 2012-13 NBA season is rapidly approaching and there are plenty of early storylines emerging.
Can the Miami HEAT repeat their championship quest from last season? Is this the final championship run for the aging Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs? Will Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks finally put all of their talent together and join the league’s elite? Can the new-look Los Angeles Lakers, now boasting Dwight Howard and Steve Nash unseat the Oklahoma City Thunder as Western Conference champions? Is this the year the Minnesota Timberwolves reach the playoffs behind All-Star Kevin Love? Likewise, the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors are poised to make playoff runs of their own, but can they seal the deal? Are the Dallas Mavericks toast, or will their new group of hungry veterans surprise us all?
The HOOPSWORLD team has these questions and more all covered and you can find season previews for all 30 NBA teams by following this LINK.
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