MINNEAPOLIS — If he needed any confirmation regarding his decision to migrate to the Twin Cities, Kevin Martin received it immediately after signing his new contract.
Once Martin’s four-year, $30 million, sign-and-trade deal became official July 11, often-gruff coach Rick Adelman gave the shooting guard he’d coached twice before an unconventional embrace.
“He’s not the guy to do anything like that,” Martin said Monday, sporting the same boyish grin he did the day he was drafted in 2004. “That’s when it kind of hit the stamp on my decision.”
It’s been nearly a decade since the Adelman-led Sacramento Kings plucked Martin out of Western Carolina. Since then, the always-confident, well-spoken, rail-thin sniper has gone from rookie protégé to offensive focal point to off-the-bench role fulfiller. Somewhere in the middle, he morphed into one of the NBA’s most potent scoring threats.
Now 30 years old, he comes to Minnesota this season fully aware he’ll once again be called upon to serve as a primary offensive option.
He couldn’t be any more ready, he said.
“I’m a greedy player,” Martin said, trading that toothy smile for a subtle smirk when asked about taking on a more central role than he did in Oklahoma City. “Not coming from wanting 20 shots a game, but just attention to detail, being a sponge in what my coaches ask of me and, you know, being a No. 1 guy offensively.
“I’m hungry for it.”
Martin comes off a year in which he averaged 27.7 minutes and 14 points per game — both his lowest marks since his second year in the league and products of his sixth-man status, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook providing the majority of offensive punch. With more limited playing time, he attained the best 3-point shooting percentage (42.6) of his nine-year career, good for 10th in the NBA.
But what Adelman will ask of him here bears closer resemblance to the pair’s time in Houston, and Martin’s later years out west. From 2006-12, he started 88.4 percent of the games he played and scored more than 20 points per game every season except for the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign (17.1 points per game).
In 2007-08 and 2010-11, he ranked among the league’s top 10 scorers.
He’s not as young as he was then, though the eye test doesn’t reveal much of a discrepancy.
But Saunders sought Martin because of his terrific stroke and impressive physical condition and fully expects him to attain such primacy once again.
“We wanted to increase our ability to put pressure on defensive guards scoring-wise, because we really haven’t had someone that we can pencil in for 17-18 points at the two-guard spot,” president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said. “And, as everyone knows, and it’s well-documented, we were the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last year.”
Maybe in NBA history, in fact, given they shot 30.5 percent while attempting 1,475 shots from that distance.
Martin is expected to slap some salve on that gaping wound, one that’s been seeping the entire time he’s been in the league, which happens to be the same time span since Minnesota last reached the playoffs.
But in order to put up prolific scoring statistics, Martin must play adequate enough defense to merit the kind of playing time he’ll need to take ample shot attempts. There are only so many to go around, and limiting opponents has never been a big part of Martin’s game.
But Saunders suggested the help principles in Adelman’s defensive schemes can render that a non-issue.
“I know they say on defense Kevin might not be the best one-one-one defensive player,” Saunders said, “but it’s not one-on-one. It’s team defense. Kevin is a student of the game, and I believe that he is a very good team defender.”
Not too many guys get labeled two-way players, Martin said.
“Me being such a great offensive player, sometimes that’s overlooked,” said Martin, who enters his 10th professional season and will be one of the most experienced veterans on a roster whose incumbent leadership is relatively young. Kevin Love (24 years old) and Ricky Rubio (22) will surely have some ropes to expose him to, but the pair of budding superstars will have plenty to learn themselves from a guy who played in last year’s Western Conference semifinals and “outside of Coach Adelman and the three coaches … knows the offensive better than anyone,” according to Saunders.
“You look where we were a year ago and we needed to strengthen our team, leadership, veteran leadership, someone who has been in big-game situations, which Kevin has definitely done,” Saunders said.
After being introduced in person to local media for the first time and showing off his new No. 23 jersey Monday at the Target Center, Martin plans to head to Tampa Bay, Fla., to begin a grueling six-week training program alongside longtime workout partner Corey Brewer,who Minnesota also signed as a free agent this summer.
Training camp is slated to begin sometime around Oct. 1, Saunders said.