As he made his way through a media horde to step in front of the team banner that would be the backdrop at his introductory press conference, Kevin Martin on Monday casually was asked how he was doing.
“I'm doing great now,” said the slender new shooting guard who arrived Sunday as part of a package for James Harden.
There was something behind the response, something more significant that simple satisfaction of Martin having gotten his first practice in a Thunder uniform under his belt. The “now” had meaning, a purpose.
“Coming to an organization and a team that is building a great team with a great supporting cast in the community,” Martin said, “I think they just have the right makings for any player to want to come and play for them.”
The winning doesn't hurt, either, especially for Martin.
After eight NBA seasons, Martin finally fell into a good situation, a successful team set up to make a deep playoff run. Throughout his career, the now 29-year-old sharpshooter has been the star player putting up eye-popping point averages on bad-to-mediocre teams. He hasn't journeyed to the playoffs since 2006 — and that trip ended after just six first-round games against San Antonio.
Individual success got old. Losing took a toll.
“I've been wanting to play on a team like this for a while, with two other big-time scorers,” Martin said, referring to All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. “I knew I was going to have an opportunity someday. I'm glad it came this soon.”
With an 18.4-point average for his career, Martin has a well-established reputation as one of the game's elite scoring guards. As Durant said Monday, “Kevin can fill it up pretty quickly.” In his best season, Martin averaged 24.6 points with the Kings in 2008-09. But Sacramento won 17 games that year, and Martin missed 31 games due to injuries.
Both sort of sum up Martin's career.
Excluding his rookie season, when he played just 45 games, Martin has appeared in just 85 percent of his team's games. Many have labeled Martin brittle because of his habitual bouncing in and out of the lineup. But Martin says he's now healthy, and his best chance at winning big for the first time in his career is expected to rejuvenate a player who has long held All-Star potential.
The last 50-win team Martin was a part of was the 2004-05 Sacramento Kings. It was his only 50-win team. Martin was just 21, a rookie who averaged only 10.1 minutes.
Now, Martin sees himself in the mold of Ray Allen, who starred for years as the go-to man for a mediocre Seattle SuperSonics team. Ironically, it was Thunder general manager Sam Presti who shipped Allen to Boston and helped him win a title alongside Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Before the Martin gets his own magical ending he must first learn to adapt. That means learning to succeed (and be satisfied) in a secondary role, a role Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Monday will start with Martin coming off the bench.
Martin insists he doesn't mind.
“You want to sacrifice things for wins,” Martin said. “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 … So I'm ready to sacrifice whatever they want me to.”
Martin will have to excuse Thunder fans for skepticism toward the word sacrifice right now. The last guy who swore by it was a fan favorite who just high-tailed it to Houston for a truckload of money. The difference here, though, is Martin has tasted life as “The Man” and knows now what an empty existence that can be when you're losing.
Martin said it was “probably in year five” when he grew tired of putting up numbers without winning. His first two seasons saw him play limited minutes but make the playoffs both seasons. In the subsequent three seasons, Martin's Kings went 33-49, 38-44 and 17-65, a .357 winning percentage.
Next to Durant and Westbrook, however, Martin now has a shot at defining his career with something greater than scoring. Before trading places with Harden, Martin said his best two teammates were Ron Artest and Brad Miller.
“But I've never played with such a great group,” Martin said of the Thunder.
Brooks, who coached Martin in Sacramento and knows him “personally,” said he doesn't envision any problems with Martin accepting his role and fitting in.
“I tell this to all of our guys,” Brooks said. “In order to be on a good team, you have to sacrifice — everybody.”
Martin seems more than willing. That much was clear in the message-sending “now” from his very first public statement as a member of the Thunder.
“Kevin is going to come in here and be a guy that's all about the team,” said Durant. “But he's going to put some points on the board as well.”