Whoa. Hello, new guy.
It’s moving day for the Thunder. Moving on, moving forward.
Judging by the mood and atmosphere of Oklahoma City’s practice Monday, everyone seems to be getting over the James Harden trade fairly quickly.
Though it was a little odd to see Kevin Martin shooting free throws with Eric Maynor and Jeremy Lamb standing by Kevin Durant watching him intently. There was definitely something missing. Four players, actually.
“It was tough,” said Kevin Durant. “It was a little awkward today not having Daequan, Lazar, Cole and James here. But it’s a new day for us and we’ve been through it before [with Jeff Green], so we’ve just got to move on.”
But as everyone will tell you, they understand the business of the NBA and there’s nothing that can be done to change it. Personnel might’ve changed, but the mission has not.
There are new questions though. Coming in to the season the biggest question hanging over OKC’s camp was who the backup center would be and if Cole Aldrich could handle it. Now? Oh boy. How does Martin fit? Does he start? Can he fill Harden’s role? How long until it takes to mesh?
One answer: Martin will begin the season coming off the bench, according to Scott Brooks.
“I haven’t done much of that but I’m very comfortable with it,” Martin said of coming off the bench. “The other day I watched two games when I came off the bench for Sacramento after an injury and they were two pretty really good games. So I’ll watch some more of that and whatever Coach Brooks wants me to do, I’ll do it.”
As to the other stuff: They’ll get it, eventually.
“Talent isn’t the problem, it’s just going to be chemistry,” Martin said.
Which is a reality that’s been difficult for Thunder fans — myself included — to accept. Remove the emotion of losing a fan favorite and franchise core piece in Harden and look at it simply in terms of what OKC got back and you’ll realize that Martin truly is a very good player that can replace a lot of what was lost in Harden. Tremendous scorer, great shooter and a player that understands how to fit.
He’s not going to play like Harden and things will change on that front, but Martin also has never been in a situation quite like this. He said today the two best players he’s ever played with were Ron Artest and Brad Miller. Think about that for a second. No really, think about that.
“I’ve been wanting to play on a team like this for a while with two other big time scorers,” Martin said. “I knew I’d have an opportunity some day and I’m glad it came this soon.
“I was kind of thinking about it and it kind of reminds me of like a Ray Allen,” Martin said. “Like how he was in Seattle for years and then going over to Boston and playing with two big time players. And you want to sacrifice things for wins. I’ve been wanting to be in a situation like this for a long time, instead of putting up numbers and being done playing in April. I’ve been wanting this opportunity so I’m ready to sacrifice whatever they want me to.”
It was honestly kind of strange the sense of excitement there was around the practice facility. Gone were the feelings of sadness, but instead it was more about, “Let’s see what these new guys can do.” Yes, Harden is gone and the Thunder are a different team, but there’s no turning back now.
“I like what he brings,” Scott Brooks said. “He brings offense, he brings knowledge, he brings playmaking.”
It’s no coincidence that Brooks didn’t say he brings defense though. But that’s something Martin, who is known as one of the weaker defenders in the league, says he’s trying to commit to.
“That’s one thing I made a conscious decision to do this offseason was to go back and being a solid defender,” he said. “I’m not going to be a lock down defender like Thabo or anything, but just being solid playing within the team concept.”
Martin made a solid point about that: He’s never had backup like he has in OKC. In Houston, Omer Asik was aiding help greatly with someone behind him to rely on. Now with the Thunder, he’s got swat machine Serge Ibaka as well as Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison.
Consider what David Thorpe told Rockets.com about it last week:
“I get text messages from scouts all the time saying they’ve never seen Kevin play defense like this before,” Thorpe said. “I just laugh and say to myself, ‘Well, he’s never had Omer Asik on his team before.’”
And don’t write off Martin as a potential pick-and-roll player and creator. Check this from Jason Friedman of Rockets.com:
“Last year K-Mart ranked in the 94th percentile when operating out of the pick-and-roll, averaging .988 points per possession according to Synergy Sports. And though all the standard sample size caveats apply, it’s at least worth noting that Martin currently ranks No. 1 in the league when operating out of the pick-and-roll, producing a ridiculously gaudy 1.385 points per possession so far this preseason.”
So that’s encouraging. He’s not an isolation player. He scores within the rhythm of the offense and when he doesn’t have an opportunity, moves the ball. He no black hole. He’s not James Harden, but he’s not J.R. Smith either.
It’s a strange post-Harden world the Thunder are living in. It’s kind of awkward, it’s definitely weird. But it’s not all bad either.
On having coached Martin before helping: “It definitely helps, but it also helps that he’s a good player. I know a lot of people that can’t play that I’m very close with … You can’t make good guys good players. You can good players decent guys.”
On Lamb: “With Jeremy he’s like a lot of our younger players that we’ve had here. We’re going to develop him. We’re going to improve him. We’re going to make him the player that we think he can be. And we’re going to do it every day. We don’t take days off here. And he won’t have a day off.”
On chemistry: “That’s something that we’ve always been great with. There’s no question that that’s one of our strengths is the chemistry of our team. But added to that, maybe what trumps that is the character of the guys that we have on our team. We have guys that have high character and they believe in each other.”
On the Thunder: “Coming in to an organization and a team that’s building a great tradition with a great supporting cast and community, I just think they have the right makings for any player to want to come and play for them … As an outsider looking in you can tell they’re like a family. That’s how the Spurs and Celtics built success. They’re right up there with them. So I think that’s the most intriguing thing about joining this team.”
On when he heard about the trade: “I thought I was getting punked.”
On Jeremy Lamb: “He’s a tremendous kid. I had a talk with him because he was only in Houston for three weeks and got traded so it’s got to be tough for a 20-year-old kid like himself. A very good kid, and on the court he just wants to learn. I told him this is a much better opportunity for him to learn how to win with two of the best players in the league teaching you the way with a great organization.”
On when he got the news: “If you had a video camera on me, y’all probably would be laughing. When I got the call I was just like, ‘Huh?’ I was like ‘Stop playing.’ I thought it was a prank call. It was surprising, but it was good news.”
On getting to learn from KD: “He’s real consistent. He goes full speed. He was here before practice and after practice. That’s the stuff you need from you leaders, great players. And if he can do it, you know what I’m saying one of the best players in the world, he doesn’t have to do that, that’s something I definitely should do.”
On Harden: “James is a good friend of mine. He’ll always be a good friend of mine. Just because he’s on a different team doesn’t change the friendships.”
On chemistry: “You can’t duplicate it, but we have a group of guys that have been here for a while. We’re switching the team up a little bit but every year we’ve had a different team and we’ve found a way to incorporate guys and make sure everybody knows what it takes for us to win. So I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”
On the change: “I don’t think we’re like down and out. We got guys coming in who’ve got to come in and make adjustments. But we got to find a way to still win games.”
On if he spoke to Harden recently about the contract stuff: “Nah, not much. I kind of left him alone. I didn’t want to pressure on nobody but I did talk to him previous before that.”
On losing Harden: “People get it confused. We get attached with these guys more than just basketball, and you build relationships with them and their families over these last few years. Just to leave like that, it’s always tough like that if it’s your friend.”
On Martin: “Kevin can fill it up pretty quickly. I’m sure you guys have seen that over the last few years.”
On Lamb: “It’s like we got two top five picks in the draft with him and P-Jones.”