LOS ANGELES -- From 2004 to 2011, Kenyon Martin played the role of enforcer behind Carmelo Anthony on the Denver Nuggets. They might not be teammates anymore, but the Martin is still coming to his longtime friend's defense.
With Anthony's return from a strained right groin injury nearing and so much scrutiny about whether or not he'll be able to mesh with point guard sensation Jeremy Lin, Martin -- who signed with the Clippers recently after playing in China -- said the concerns of fans and media are unfounded. Anthony, as Martin sees it, will do what it takes to make it work.
"First of all man, I wanted to call in to ESPN and say something when I saw them saying [Anthony would mess it up]," Martin told SI.com. "Melo wants to win. The man is a competitor, and he wants to win. He's as competitive as they come.
"Smart basketball player, and the best player on that team -- hands down. So I don't understand why people are questioning whether he's selfish or not. No, the man is not selfish. The man wants to win. He'll do whatever it takes to win. I don't think he'll mess nothing up. He's going to come in and be Carmelo Anthony."
Being Carmelo Anthony was considered a good thing during most of his time in Denver, where the third pick of the 2003 draft led the Nuggets to eight straight winning seasons and playoff appearances after eight straight losing seasons before his arrival. Martin arrived in July of 2004, when he agreed to a sign-and-trade that sent him from New Jersey to Denver in large part because of Anthony's presence.
And while they never won a championship together, there was no shortage of good times shared. They won 50-plus games the last four seasons, and reached the Western Conference finals in 2009 before falling to the Lakers in six games.
But after Martin left his Chinese Basketball Association team (Xinjiang) in late December and returned to the United States, he began to notice the anti-Anthony message coming out of Denver. Nuggets coach George Karl had routinely discussed his team's new style and how the absence of Anthony made his job easier. The Melo-drama, as it was dubbed, clearly bothered Karl before Anthony was traded to the Knicks last February. Martin, however, said Karl's comments went too far.
"Man, listen, George needs to keep his mouth shut, first and foremost," Martin said. "Melo don't play there no more. So Karl shouldn't be commenting on Melo. If George was such a great coach, then Melo would want to stay. He wouldn't want to leave.
"If the organization was ran right, he wouldn't want to leave, so it ain't Melo. With Melo, not one time when he was there did he bring that in the locker room when all that stuff was going on. Not one day. Everybody made it a bigger deal than it had to be. That's a good kid.
"They act like this kid was a cancer, like he came in there and destroyed the locker room and made everybody hate him. No, it wasn't nothing like that man. And it bothers me for people to be talking about how he's a selfish player and he has to defend himself."
The Nuggets, who got off to a 15-7 start but have lost seven of their last nine games, cut ties with a number of core players from their recent teams.
"They've got the team they wanted now," Martin said. "They got all us out of there. They didn't offer me an extension, they traded [Anthony], J.R. [Smith] is gone [to New York]. They've got the team they want. So why doesn't [Karl] worry about coaching them and leaving Melo alone -- bottom line? It bothers me for them to keep harping at that."
Martin, whose Clippers fell to 19-10 on Saturday with an overtime loss to San Antonio, will be rooting for the Knicks as some sort of strange revenge.
"I just hope [Anthony] comes in and they play well," he said. "Because if not, then it's going to be a whole other can of worms."