By Ben Golliver
That moment when a man with a giant set of lips tattooed on his neck decides that it's better to beg for a job than maintain appearances.
Unrestricted free agent forward Kenyon Martin can't be blamed for asking himself the tough questions this week, not when a resurrected Rasheed Wallace is knocking down three-pointers for the Knicks.
Yahoo! Sports reports that Martin, who spent last season with the Clippers after playing in China during the lockout, is open to any and all NBA job opportunities after failing to land a spot this summer.
The Clippers didn't attempt to re-sign Martin in the offseason. The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs expressed interest at the start of free agency, sources said, but no NBA team has offered a contract – even a non-guaranteed deal – to Martin.
Martin, 34, had hoped to sign with a title contender. Now, he'll be open to joining any NBA team.
"If someone calls me tomorrow, I don't care who it is, whether it's losing or winning at this point," Martin said. "If someone calls me tomorrow and wants me to come in, I'm going. Guys are going down and [teams] are like, 'Well, we are going to stick with what we got.' I'm like, 'Really?' I started questioning myself, 'Am I that bad of a guy?' "
Martin, 34, is just months removed from being a fairly important piece of a Clippers team that advanced to the Western Conference semifinals, averaging 5.2 points and 4.3 rebounds in 42 games off of L.A.'s bench. HoopsHype.com ranks him as the No. 2 available free agent in the league.
So what happened here?
Martin's age and reputation as an instigator, trash-talker and prolific recipient of technical fouls works against him, as he readily admits. The risks just outweigh the rewards for any and all young and rebuilding teams.
That the Clippers didn't retain him is enough to give those without a direct connection to Martin some pause. "They willingly picked Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins over him? Something must be up." L.A.'s mini mid-level exception went to Grant Hill, a player who is both older and wiser than Martin.
Even with the Clippers' lack of interest, it's too easy to write off Martin as a crab apple getting his comeuppance. There are some real financial factors at play here, too.
For starters, Martin entered the free agency period expecting to land a mini mid-level deal, like the one he signed with the Clippers last season. In hindsight, this was a clear misreading of the market; had he adopted his current "any job is better than no job" approach back in July, there's a decent shot he would have been able to squeeze in somewhere. By holding out for more than the league minimum, he sent a message to future employers that he wasn't yet at the stage of his career where winning and being a part of a winner was his top priority. You can just imagine the Spurs rolling their eyes and thinking, "Whatever, dude." With some contenders moving toward small ball and plenty of reserve big men who are past their prime conceding to the veteran's minimum reality, Martin's initial personal valuation doesn't make a lot of sense. Supply simply exceeded demand.
The new collective bargaining agreement is playing a role here as well. The prototypical "win now" team that stocks up on veterans in preparation for a big playoff run simply doesn't have the same resources and flexibility that were available in previous seasons. Big-spending teams now see their mid-level exception reduced to a mini mid-level. Luxury tax teams are now subject to repeater taxes. Those facts are forcing teams to get creative and to make tougher choices at the bottom of their rosters.
A quick survey of the seven teams other than the Clippers who seemed likely to add a veteran like Martin reveals this new reality.
• The Celtics used their mid-level on Jason Terry, who, again, is way more productive than Martin. They also craftily put together a sign-and-trade for Courtney Lee and added Leandro Barbosa and Darko Milicic for the minimum.
• The Knicks, who have a whole host of former Martin teammates, used their mini mid-level on Jason Kidd, who filled both a need and is a better locker room guy than Martin, before going the veteran's minimum route with Wallace and Kurt Thomas. They also used sign-and-trades to add salary elsewhere.
• The Nets, Martin's first NBA home, signed Reggie Evans for the minimum and contributed so many dollars elsewhere that their ability to add Martin for anything other than the minimum was compromised. Their mini mid-level went to Mirza Teletovic, a 27-year-old Bosnian forward.
• The ridiculously top-heavy Lakers went with Antawn Jamison at the minimum.
• The Oklahoma City Thunder, in turn, replaced Mohammed with Hasheem Thabeet for next to nothing before giving Serge Ibaka a four-year extension. What do we take from this? Playoff experience and proven NBA skills are no longer enough to earn a mini mid-level contract in this tighter market. Like Allen, Terry, Kidd, Teletovic and others, you must be ready to play significant rotation minutes at that price. This is a positive development for the NBA; overpaying for under-performing veterans who were signed on the basis of their reputation was a common market inefficiency in recent years. Now, it seems, the options for less productive veterans looking to catch on with winning teams are clear: league minimum or nothing.