Upon the signing of guard Carlos Delfino, many speculated that the move signaled a trade of incumbent starter Kevin Martin. The thinking went that the team now had three good shooting guards so one was probably on the way out. With rookie Jeremy Lamb a sure bet to stay, fingers pointed towards Martin. However, I’m not sure an imminent departure should be taken as a foregone conclusion.
Those in and around Toyota Center know that there is more to the Martin story than meets the eye. Late last year, when we’d inquire of Kevin McHale as to the guard’s availability, the mood would suddenly turn evasive and awkward.
Martin does not figure into the team’s future. Just one year left on his deal ($12.4million), the former King was brought in to serve as complement to center Yao Ming. With his insane efficiency and propensity to get to the line, the thinking was that, with Yao, the team could force opponents quickly into the foul limit. Yao retired and the rules changed. Before injury, Martin often found himself on the bench last year in late-game situations, sitting next to McHale. If even not dealt by the deadline, you can pretty much consider it a guarantee that Martin will not be a Houston Rocket in 2013-2014.
Martin had been preserved up to this point in the case of a possible Dwight Howard trade for use in matching salaries. What to do now with Howard in L.A.? The situation is probably the only dilemma of any relevance for the team at the moment. (Critics bemoan the team’s glut at forward or its dearth of big men, but this is all silly as it really does not matter. This is not a team trying to win this season (atleast we hope)…this is a team trying to build a future; nitpicking over roster imbalance at this stage serves as beyond shortsighted.)
Does Morey continue holding on in case a big name becomes available at the deadline and he needs to make a match? Does he settle now for whatever he can get in trade? Does he just wait until the deadline, reevaluate, and negotiate a buyout?
The dilemma with a trade, and what many don’t understand, is that the Rockets want to maintain flexibility. Unless they tremendously like the players they would be receiving, Houston does not want to take back long-term salary. And with Martin’s trade value at an all-time low, its extremely unlikely that Daryl Morey would be able to find a package for players he “tremendously likes.” Martin’s sole value at this point is as an expiring contract.
The ideal return would be one where the Rockets net a future draft pick and salaries are matched either through equivalent expiring contracts or through the absorption of Martin’s salary within the opposing team’s cap. Each aforementioned scenario is easier said than done. Few teams have these suitor characteristics. Minnesota was one, and seemed to be a logical landing spot, but the Wolves used their space this summer with the signing of forward Andrei Kirilenko.
If the Rockets hold onto Martin and simply allow him to expire next summer, unless they just bench him, they’d be blocking the development of guard Jeremy Lamb. Such a scenario would be simply inexcusable.
I think you’ll see Morey hold onto Martin until the deadline. Perhaps a big name, like Bynum, becomes available. If they deal him now, I’m not so sure who’d be interested or who could even make it work. At the deadline, K-Mart will be owed less money and teams will have reevaluated their season goals.