Given that professional basketball players spend most of their careers singing odes to the prospect of winning championships, moving on from an NBA title contender to a youthful team trying to establish itself looks, on the face of it, like a tough shift.
But new Timberwolves shooting guard Kevin Martin sat at the podium at Target Center on Monday, introduced in person to the Twin Cities media for the first time since signing in July, and repeatedly declared his optimism for the move, his new home and the prospects of a team that has built an intriguing core.
“I don’t think our goal is just to make the playoffs — that would be a mistake to sit up here and say that’s our ceiling or things like that,” Martin said. “This team is built to do more than that. … The foundation has been laid, so now it’s our job to work hard every day and establish a family atmosphere in that locker room. … This was a very easy decision for me to come up here to Minnesota.”
No doubt, the four-year, $28 million contract Martin signed also had something to do with the sudden interest in a team that has missed the postseason for the past nine years. But Martin also divulged a little of what it means to have the opportunity to get back to a situation that makes more sense for him as a player.
Last season, Martin was traded from Houston to Oklahoma City, where he was essentially a sixth man for the first time in his career. While a major piece on a Thunder team that made to the Western Conference semifinals — and a team that might have gone much farther had All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook not injured a knee — Martin’s average of 14.0 points per game was his lowest since 2005-06.
Getting the chance to be a starting shooting guard once more will enable him to get back to his type of game, he said, which is one that has conveniently been developed in part by Wolves coach Rick Adelman, for whom Martin played in Sacramento and Houston.
Martin said his decision to come to Minnesota has only been vindicated by the welcome he has received. Walking around town last week, Martin said he was “overwhelmed” by the positive responses of fans approaching him and thanking him for joining the Wolves. When Martin traveled here to officially sign last month, Adelman — typically not one to show much emotion — engulfed him in a hug.
“We’re bringing in a guy that, probably outside of Coach Adelman and the three coaches, knows the offense better than anybody,” said Flip Saunders, the Wolves president of basketball operations.
Saunders called Martin “the first domino” in what he considers a successful offseason. The Wolves already have some key pieces with power forward Kevin Love and point guard Ricky Rubio, but the pair, particularly after an injury-ravaged 2012-13 season, needed help.
Saunders said he believes he can “pencil in” Martin for 17 to 18 points per game and expects him to provide some badly needed perimeter shooting. Last season, the Wolves were the worst team in the NBA at three-point shooting (30.5 percent), an area in which Martin — who made 42.6 percent of his shots from behind the arc a year ago — excels.
As much as anything, Saunders said he values the leadership Martin can bring to a young squad that boasts talent but is still trying to find its identity. In return, Martin breathes hope into a team that is a little short on it and speaks confidently about not just getting back to the playoffs but “doing some damage.”
“This franchise and this city deserves all that,” he said.