Injuries have forced him to miss almost as many games as he’s played this season. He is a 10-year veteran on a team building for years down the line.
And yet Kevin Martin insists this season has been a joy.
“Even through the injuries,” Martin said Friday morning, hours before his return, after missing six games because of a strained left hamstring, to the Timberwolves lineup. “I have enjoyed seeing the young guys develop. I have a mind-set that it’s good to be able to put your handprint on some of these guys, like [Andrew] Wiggins, and teach them how to get into the body, draw fouls.”
Martin, among the league’s more efficient offensive players this season, struggled in his return Friday. He missed his first seven shots before finishing with 12 points.
But he wasn’t alone. Playing host to another struggling team at Target Center, the Wolves never led in a 97-84 loss to the Orlando Magic that once again showed how far the teams’ young players have to go.
Nikola Vucevic beat up on the Wolves’ battered front line, getting a career-high 37 points and 17 rebounds. The Magic (23-53) dominated on the boards and pulled away late, with consecutive three-pointers by Tobias Harris (25 points) pushing the lead to 12 with under five minutes left.
The Wolves (16-60), who lost for the sixth consecutive time, got 22 points from Wiggins, 14 points and nine rebounds by Justin Hamilton and 12 each from Adreian Payne and Chase Budinger.
But they allowed the Magic to outrebound them 53-30, including 20 offensive rebounds while getting only three; Wolves coach Flip Saunders lamented poor perimeter defense on rookie Magic guard Elfrid Payton (10 points, 10 assists), which resulted in defensive breakdowns.
Martin is something of the last veteran man standing on a team that already has traded away Corey Brewer, Thaddeus Young and Mo Williams. Kevin Garnett is here, but he is past his productive days. But Martin, 32, has proved how effective he can be, when healthy. Entering Friday’s game Martin was averaging 20.2 points per game, his highest average in four seasons, and shooting 40.4 percent from three-point range. He had five games with 30 or more points.
But he is a player seemingly out of step with the Wolves’ plan. They are building with rookies Wiggins and Zach LaVine and other young players, an investment that might not pay dividends for two or three years.
After Wednesday’s loss to Toronto, Wiggins talked about how he has stored every lopsided loss away, for future motivation.
“We’ll never forget it,” he said. “As we grow and get better as a team, we’ll never forget this year. It’ll be motivation for us, for basically like revenge, to try to kill the teams that beat us this year.’’
“We remember every time we’ve gotten really spanked,” he said. “Teams just don’t let up. What goes around comes around. When that day comes, I know for a fact I’m going to let them know if I’m in the game. I know [Wiggins] will as well.”
Martin, meanwhile, would seem to be a player looking for something more immediate.
Or is he?
“You know what? I’m day-by-day here,” said Martin, who said he tweaked his hamstring trying to keep up with LaVine on a break late in the victory at New York March 19. “I’ve enjoyed this year.”
But what about next year? Martin has two more seasons on his contract for a total of about $14.46 million.
Does Martin want to be back on a team that’s still building?
“I’m sure Flip will have those conversations in the offseason, with his evaluations of everything,” Martin said. “But, right now, I feel good. I was happy a year ago, and I’m happy now.’’
• Saunders when told that Martin hurt his hamstring trying to run a break with LaVine.
“He’s now turned into what you call a trail three-point shooter.”
• Saunders said the next injured player most likely to return is guard Gary Neal (ankle).