Kidd, Martin reunite with plan of tutoring young Bucks
MILWAUKEE — Jason Kidd’s friendship with Kenyon Martin dates to the summer of 2001, when the future Hall of Fame point guard was traded from Phoenix to New Jersey.
With the Nets, Kidd found the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft in need of a running mate.
Kidd and Martin combined for 148 wins, two Eastern Conference championships and countless alley-oops over their three seasons together in New Jersey while forging a relationship that has helped them reunite in Milwaukee.
"We’ve always been as close as a family," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "We’ve kept that relationship going throughout even though we’ve been on other teams.
"We just hit it off. He made me better. He cleaned up all of my mistakes, so he made me look good. As much as people say I made him look good, it was probably the other way around."
Martin averaged 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per game as a rookie with New Jersey, but the Stephon Marbury-led Nets struggled to win just 26 games under first-year coach Byron Scott.
The Nets made a series of roster moves the following offseason but none bigger than a five-player deal that sent Marbury to Phoenix and Kidd to New Jersey.
Kidd and Martin helped New Jersey double its win total from the previous season, collecting 52 victories during the 2001-02 season en route to landing the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey survived a first-round scare from Indiana before cruising past Charlotte and Boston to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers swept the Nets, but Kidd and Martin averaged a combined 42.8 points, 13.8 rebounds, 12.6 assists, 3.8 steals and 1.8 blocks over the four games.
The two led the Nets to 49 wins the following season, defeating the Bucks, Celtics and Pistons in the playoffs to return to the NBA Finals. This time, New Jersey sat even in the series at 2-all before dropping Game 5 and Game 6 to San Antonio to lose the series.
"First and foremost, to be able to call him a friend is great," said Martin, who signed a 10-day contract with the Bucks on Friday. "He has always been there for me, no matter what the situation is.
"When I got with J-Kidd I was 23 years old. I didn’t know too much about the NBA game. He helped me a lot with how to prepare and where to get the ball on the floor."
The best statistical season of Martin’s career came in 2003-04, but the Nets failed to live up to the gaudy expectations placed on them after consecutive NBA Finals appearances.
Scott was fired 42 games into the season with the Nets in first place at 22-20. Lawrence Frank led New Jersey to a 27-15 record after he took over, but the Nets fell in seven games to Detroit in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Martin was traded to Denver for three first-round picks in July 2004, ending his time as Kidd’s teammate for the time being.
Kidd went on to cap his Hall of Fame career with a championship with Dallas in 2011, while Martin played seven productive seasons with the Nuggets before joining the Los Angeles Clippers following the 2011 lockout.
The two became teammates again during the 2012-13 season when Martin joined Kidd’s New York Knicks first on a 10-day contract and then for the remainder of the season. After winning 54 games but bailing out of the playoffs in the Eastern conference semifinals, Kidd retired to become head coach of the Nets.
"I always knew he would make a great coach," Martin said. "I just didn’t know it would be this soon. But I knew he’d be good because of his knowledge of the game and his rapport with people and players. He has an ability to know the game on the fly. All of those are great attributes.
Martin isn’t surprised Kidd has had success transitioning from player to coach, as he always saw his teammate as a coach on the floor and in the locker room.
"I think the luxury he had last year was he had a lot of older guys on his team, so he didn’t have to do as much coaching as he’d have to do as if it was this team his first year," Martin said. "It would have been a lot different, I think. But he had a lot of older guys who knew how to go out there and play. That made the transition a lot easier for him."
With the Bucks in need of frontcourt help, Kidd reached out to Martin to gauge his interest in coming to Milwaukee. Martin worked out for Milwaukee’s coaching staff in Cleveland on Dec. 30 and waited for the phone to ring.
Kidd eventually came calling, feeling his former teammate can help his young basketball team on and off the court.
"For us this is a process of learning a lot of different things," Kidd said. "One of the best ways to learn is to learn from other guys, especially your teammates. He’s been in a lot of battles in the playoffs and the NBA Finals. He’s been on pretty good teams throughout his career, so he understands what it takes.
"It will be big for those guys in the locker room just to be able to talk to him. He’s not shy. That helps for these young guys to understand what it takes to win."
Martin also had workouts with Houston and Memphis this season, and he could have waited to see whether a more serious title contender came calling for his services later in the season.
But his relationship with Kidd led him to jump at the opportunity the Bucks offered.
"It was huge," Martin said. "For him to reach out to me personally, it meant a lot. Not a lot of head coaches do that. But I think that was due to our relationship prior to me being here and us being friends. I respect him on and off the court, so this is a great thing."
How much Martin has left in the tank is unclear. The Bucks can opt to move on after 10 days or ink the 37-year-old to another 10-day deal before deciding whether to keep him for the remainder of the season.
One thing the 15-year NBA veteran showed during his first two games with Milwaukee is that he can still get up to catch and throw down alley-oops similar to the many Kidd threw him in New Jersey.
"(Bucks guard Jerryd) Bayless asked nicely if he would get in trouble if he threw it off the backboard," Kidd joked. "I said, ‘As long as it is to K-Mart, that’s fine. But anyone else, you will be benched.’"
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