NBA@2: Kenyon Martin In Demand
As much as anything else, the 2011-12 NBA season is being defined by injuries and underperforming teams. The most obvious reason for those shortcomings is the compacted schedule, which often looks more like something out of Major League Baseball than the NBA. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of teams in need of front court help, and free agent forward Kenyon Martin is currently the talk of many teams around the NBA.
Martin, of course, was among the players who signed contracts to play in China at a time when it looked like the NBA’s lockout might drag on indefinitely. Unlike contracts signed in Europe, the Chinese contracts did not expire immediately upon the end of the lockout. Instead, players are required to fulfill their contracts in China before being allowed to return to the NBA. Most notably, Martin, Aaron Brooks and Wilson Chandler have been eagerly awaiting their chance to sign new contracts with NBA clubs.
The Chinese schedule concludes on February 15th, though Chandler is on a team that could run deep into the playoffs. Martin’s agent has been lead to believe that his client will receive his letter of clearance from FIBA shortly after the 15th, meaning he could be back in the NBA before the All-Star break. His name is certainly running rampant around the league this week.
The San Antonio Spurs are looking for front court help in the wake of Antonio McDyess’ retirement, and while they have maintained a high level of play without him, they are one of the teams that would love to add martin to the mix.
Likewise, the Los Angeles Lakers are looking to fill a void, the one left by Lamar Odom’s departure to Dallas. The Lakers were expecting a subsequent deal to land Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu in town, but when they didn’t happen it left them in need of another scoring threat. Martin could be that threat.
The Los Angeles Clippers could also use another front court presence, someone to bring scoring punch and energy off the bench. So far, Mo Williams has been their only consistent second unit threat, and Martin could give LA an additional threat off the bench to spell Blake Griffin.
The New York Knicks have thrown their name in the ring, as they have with every potential impact free agent, as have the Miami HEAT, who hope the chance to win a championship would be a strong draw for Martin. The Atlanta Hawks have also been looking for someone to help fill the minutes normally assigned to Al Horford, and see Martin as a possible solution.
Don’t be surprised if the ever-more-ancient Boston Celtics get into the discussion, as well.
The word out of Camp Martin is that he will make his choice by this weekend, and it certainly looks like he will have plenty of teams to choose from. Unfortunately for Martin, none of the teams currently in the mix has much money to spend. He would no doubt be looking to prove he still has game left to earn a bigger contract for 2012-13.
A Captain Emerging In Utah?
Paul Millsap’s NBA journey has not been an easy one. He came into the league playing behind Carlos Boozer, and sometimes struggled to find minutes. He explored free agency, even signed an offer sheet to join the Portland Trail Blazers, only to have that offer sheet matched, landing him right back in Utah. Now, playing in his fifth season, Millsap has replaced Boozer as the team’s starting power forward and is even putting up numbers worthy of All-Star consideration.
“He’s a tremendous all-around player,” Jazz head coach Ty Corbin tells HOOPSWORLD. “He’s a great team guy. He does a great job of handling his responsibilities with his four-men. Defensively, he can get up in a guy and take certain parts of player’s games away from them. He’s quick enough to get up on a guy on the perimeter or he can get back on the post and play a guy on the block. Offensively, we can go to him at times. He’s continued to expand his game on both sides of the floor.”
Millsap’s journey from role player to starter, made possible by his own hard work and dedication, is one that Corbin believes makes him a role model for the rest of the team.
“He’s not a huge talker but when you blow the whistle and throw the ball up he’s ready to go to work. He just goes out and does his job and spends his extra time working on his shot. He’s a guy that if you look at where he was when he first came into the league and you look at him now you can say that it’s just from him working. He’s expanded his game. He’s expanded his perimeter jump shot to where he is able at times to step out to the three-point line. He’s a great mid-range shooter. He’s able to put the ball on the floor now because of the work that he’s put in.”
Corbin has yet to name a team captain, though he does believe that Millsap could turn out to be that player for the Jazz.
“I think he’s a tremendous candidate for it. He is one of the thirteen captains that we have but in the future he could definitely fill that role.”
Millsap doesn’t get much recognition league-wide as being one of the better power forwards in the NBA. Corbin thinks that’s one of the motivating factors for his big man.
“As long as it doesn’t bother him to the point where he stops doing what he’s doing, I believe he’ll continue to work to make people believe in him. I’ve been there in my career. At times I felt that whatever you do somebody else would get recognized before you. You just have to continue to work. The media is something that you can’t control; you just have to go out and work as hard as you can and it will take care of itself.”
The national media may not yet sit up to take notice of Paul Millsap, but if he continues to work as hard as he has there will come a day when his efforts finally get their due recognition. The Jazz are off to a surprisingly good start, currently at 12-7 and very much in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase. Paul Millsap is absolutely the primary reason why the Jazz are better than most believed they would be this season.
Markieff Morris Making His Mark
In many ways, Phoenix Suns rookie Markieff Morris stormed out of the gates to start his rookie season. He scored 15 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder on December 30th, then dropped 16 points and nine rebounds on the Golden State Warriors. Those two games started a stretch in which Morris scored in double-figures in six of nine games, though in typical rookie fashion he has since dropped off a bit.
“Just getting used to it,” Morris tells HOOPSWORLD of his NBA experience. “Getting used to the game more. Feeling like I got lucky in a couple of those early games, trying to keep it up.”
It helps that Morris is playing Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, who gives young players a chance to get out on the court and show what they can do.
“He’s given me a lot of confidence,” says Morris. “He tells me to just go out there and play. Don’t play like you’re a rookie, go play like you’ve been a part of this team and just keep your confidence up because you’re going to need it. So that’s what I try to do, just go out there and do what I do best.”
Of course, when Morris heard his number called by the Phoenix Suns on draft night, it wasn’t Gentry he was thinking about. Morris couldn’t help but smile at the thought of playing with master assist-man Steve Nash.
“At my position, who wouldn’t? I was excited,” Morris admits. “It’s where I wanted to be all along and I made it clear to those guys when I came out here for my draft workout that I think I would fit here perfectly well.”
Before being drafted by the Suns, Morris spent three seasons at Kansas. He believes the experience of playing at a school with such high expectations helped prepare him for a career in the NBA.
“I would say so – there’s nothing like Kansas. You’ve got your Dukes, North Carolinas but to be on that big stage every game you play definitely prepared me for this.”
At Kansas, Morris majored in American studies, inspired to do so by his interest in the history of slavery and American history in general. He’s also been following the Suns, and admits that in the wake of Amar’e Stoudemire’s departure the Suns are still very much trying to find themselves.
“Definitely,” Morris says of studying the Suns. “The thing about us is, we’re a team, we play as a team, we’re just trying to find ourselves right now and just play as hard as possible to get things done.”
Markieff’s brother Morris was drafted right behind him by the Houston Rockets, but is now spending time in the D-League after failing to crack Kevin McHale’s rotation early on. Rather than giving his brother a hard time, Markieff feels personally responsible for Marcus’ demotion.
“No man, I was mad myself when he got sent down there. Man, he’s just got to make it, he can’t be down on himself for getting sent down there. He’s got to go down there and make the best of it. There’s no brotherly rivalry at all. I was more mad than feeling like I was above him more than anything.”
As for Markieff, he continues to play well and contribute, though Coach Gentry admits he has plenty of work to do.
“He has a long way to go. He’s a rookie and everybody sees the 16 and nine and I’m happy with that, but there are a lot of defensive things that he’s got to get better at. There are rotations and understanding things like that, but the big thing is that he plays with confidence and he plays with aggressiveness. Those two things right there are really important. The other thing he needs is just the experience of being in the game and the playing and the understanding of it.”
Morris is off to a good start, but for the Suns to be a playoff team this season they’re going to need, among other things, for their rookie to grow up very quickly. He’s scored in double-figures just once in his last eight games, and the Suns won just three of those games. There’s little doubt that Morris is an important part of the Suns’ future, but that future may still be a year or two away.
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to insure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @jfleminghoops, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNYC, @SusanBible, @DPageHoopsWorld , @stephenlitel , @stevesraptors, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.
NBA Chats: There are two NBA chats on the schedule today. Kicking things off will be salary cap guru Larry Coon who will host his chat starting at 3pm EST. Submit a question for Larry here. Next up, Lang Greene will host his weekly chat at 8pm EST. Feel free to drop him a line on anything NBA related. You can always find our upcoming chats HERE.