In his younger days, perhaps there would have been a payback list for Kenyon Martin, similar to the ones NFL receiver Chad Johnson use to make of cornerbacks he planned on burning each week. There would be disdain and venom, an attitude.
But at age 35, Martin is beyond that. He’ll let his play do his talking. He’ll allow those who doubted his athletic prowess to wow when he leaps for a thunderous jam of a missed shot.
Martin says he has found comfort with the New York Knicks after being a basketball vagabond for months, searching for an opportunity and seething because his reputation for clashing with teammates and coaches preceded him.
Such was the case last season with the Los Angeles Clippers, when Martin clashed at times with coach Vinny Del Negro, and word of those dustups spread to league executives, who were unsure whether they wanted an aging, crabby Martin on their roster.
He says those are misunderstandings. Martin, the No. 1 overall pick in 2000 by the Nets, plays with an attitude but is considered a likeable teammate. He still has a passion for winning, and perhaps that is mistaken for arrogance or bravado.
When asked about the Celtics passing on the opportunity to sign him despite being desperate for forwards, Martin said, “It just wasn’t them. It just wasn’t the Celtics. So everybody get [my wrath]. I’m just here to prove to people that I ain’t never lost it. I’m a better person than I am a basketball player.
“The chip I always play with, it ain’t got no bigger, but I’m here to prove that what I can do, that’s everybody every night. So it just don’t start with the Celtics. Whoever puts that uniform on that’s opposite of us, they’re going to see what they’re missing.”
The Knicks added Martin to provide depth in the frontcourt, but that quickly turned into a prominent role when Marcus Camby, Tyson Chandler, and Amar’e Stoudemire went down with injuries. Martin is now starting at center for a team that could claim the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. In six games in that position, he is averaging 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 72 percent in 27 minutes per game.
“I have played against these guys before and they know the way I play,” he said.
Martin knows his reputation, and realizes there is little he can do to change perceptions. But his time in New York is gaining him equity around the league, perhaps making him a more marketable free agent this summer.
“It was upsetting before, but I don’t deal with it,” he said. “The people who know me, man, they know what I’m about. I’m about winning. I’m about my teammates. I care about the guys I suit up with. That’s what I’m about.
“So other people, ain’t been around me long, they gonna judge. I can’t help that. Somebody is always going to have something to say — good, bad, or indifferent — so I take it all with a grain of salt.”
Martin is enjoying his experience in New York.
“I would love to stay a Knick,” he said. “I don’t want to go nowhere. I am proving to this organization what I can be and who I am as a person on and off the court, and I think they see that. I’m here now and I’m going to make the best of this opportunity.”
Teagues are in this together
Jeff Teague waited two years for his opportunity to start with the Hawks, and he has been making the most of it. And when his brother, Marquis Teague, finished his freshman season at the University of Kentucky in 2012 by winning a national championship, he wanted to enter the NBA draft.
Marquis was the 29th overall pick by the Bulls. With Derrick Rose recovering from left knee surgery, there was a need at point guard, and Marquis was expected to play a role for the Bulls. However, the void mostly has been filled by Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson.
Going into Saturday, Marquis had played in just 44 games, averaging 8.9 minutes. This has been a learning experience for the 20-year-old guard, something his brother predicted during the decision-making process before the draft.
“I told him it was going to be rough his first year,” said Jeff. “It was rough my first year, getting picked by a playoff team, it’s never easy. But he’s been taking it well.”
Jeff believes his brother should have played his sophomore season at Kentucky. The elder Teague played two stellar seasons at Wake Forest, then averaged just 4.1 points through his first two seasons in Atlanta before posting a 12.6 average last year, his first as a starter.
“I said, ‘Go back to school one more year,’ but he felt like he was ready, and I can’t tell him what to do,” said Jeff, “and I was going to be with him whatever decision he made.
“But I thought he should have went back and had another year to hone his skills. He wanted to come out. He made a grown-man choice.
“But I think he’s enjoying it. He just tries to stay focused and work hard every day. I told him that was the biggest thing — to make sure that they see you love the game.”
Jeff said they speak three or four times a week. They share more in common than being brothers. Their teams are fighting for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and a chance to face the Nets instead of the Knicks or Pacers.
The Hawks have been one of the league’s biggest surprises, and Teague has emerged as one of their cornerstones. They were expected to be lottery-bound after trading away Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams in the offseason but clinched a playoff berth with a win at Toronto Wednesday.
“At the beginning of the year, we came together and promised each other we were going to do something special,” said Teague. “If we stay together and stay focused, we can do it, and we’ve done a pretty good job.”
Two sides to James’s claims
It took until the conclusion of the Heat’s mind-boggling 27-game winning streak for LeBron James to complain about the way he is being officiated. And of course, anything King James says is going to garner attention.
So after James stated that he was being unfairly targeted for cheap shots, hard fouls, and flagrant fouls, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge called it “embarrassing” for him to complain.
The Celtics should know. James has lived at the free throw line against the Celtics. And after Game 2 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals, Ainge cornered a league official, noting that James had attempted 24 free throws in Miami’s overtime win and the Celtics 29 as a team.
Obviously, the issue of fouls — not only committed against James but called on him — is a sticky point for Ainge and other league executives who believe James is allowed to play physically without much penalty.
Here are some numbers:
As of Friday, James was 186th in the league with 106 personal fouls, tied with Tim Duncan. But James was third in minutes with 2,721, while Duncan had played just 1,807, meaning that in more than 900 more minutes played, James had been called for the same amount of fouls as Duncan.
Also, James was sixth in free throw attempts, trailing James Harden, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, and Russell Westbrook. All of those five had been called for at least 33 more personal fouls than James. Even Bryant — whose next foul would be his first, according to him — had committed 47 more fouls in 27 fewer minutes than James.
So while James may have a gripe about the physicality he faces from opposing defenders, on the flip side, he doesn’t get called for many fouls. In the 71 games he played going into Friday, James had been whistled for three or more fouls in a game just 14 times and more than four just once.
James has fouled out of three games in his career, but none since 2007-08.
Ainge’s comments sparked a terse response from Heat president Pat Riley, who released a statement through the team telling Ainge to “shut the [expletive] up” about James, and claiming that Ainge was the biggest “whiner” to officials during his playing days.
Riley is correct in that assessment. But while James is constantly being roughed up by opponents after his drives to the basket and constantly glares at officials after non-calls, he is being treated generously by officials on the defensive side.
Teammate Dwyane Wade had been whistled for 28 more fouls than James in 507 fewer minutes, so either James is playing great defense when most players foul, or he is being given at least a slight benefit of the doubt by officials.
Either way, James has a legitimate point about some of the roughhousing he was subjected to last week in Chicago and by other teams that are trying to rattle him.
It will be quite interesting to see whether James’s words resonate among officials. A couple of weeks ago, when Bryant complained about questionable tactics from Atlanta’s Dahntay Jones that resulted in a badly sprained ankle, the league responded by acknowledging that Jones should have been whistled for a foul. When the superstars talk, the league tends to listen.
Dooling has return in mind
Keyon Dooling wants to return to the NBA, but it won’t be with the Celtics. After they waived him following his retirement, Dooling became ineligible to return as a player to the club for a year. He accepted a position of director of player development with Boston, but when Rajon Rondo went down with a knee injury, Dooling and Doc Rivers had a conversation about a possible return.
When the Celtics found out Dooling was unable to return to them, he drew interest from other teams. He has been talking with the Grizzlies and told the Globe he should know by Sunday whether he will sign with them.
The Grizzlies have been seeking a dependable backup to Mike Conley for weeks. And Dooling had clicked in as a Celtics reserve toward the conclusion of last season. What’s more, the team brought him back on a one-year deal before he decided to retire after revealing that he had been molested as a child.
Dooling told the Globe a few months ago that he was considering playing again; now he is expected to return and seems to have productive years left.
When he retired, he gave up his post on the executive committee of the NBA Players Association and had to watch as close friend Billy Hunter got ousted by a revamped committee.
The Celtics could have used Dooling’s services, but it seemed that he just needed a break after such an emotional admission.
Knee surgery trips Granger
The Pacers announced Thursday that Danny Granger, felled by more knee soreness this month, will miss the rest of the season to have a surgical procedure on his left knee, to be performed by the renowned Dr. James Andrews. Known for his prowess in performing Tommy John surgeries for baseball pitchers, Andrews has also become the most popular physician for football and basketball players in need of knee surgery (including Rajon Rondo). Granger is expected to be ready for training camp, but it’s uncertain what his role will be on a team filled with younger players ready for more responsibility such as Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Granger is a free agent after next season, while George is eligible for a long-term contract extension following this third season.
The Knicks are counting on Amar’e Stoudemire to return for the postseason after having right knee surgery earlier this month, but he won’t travel with the club any time soon, according to coach Mike Woodson. Stoudemire was a solid contributor off the bench before experiencing more knee problems. He missed the first three months of the season after surgery on the left knee.
Expect several bubble prospects to declare for the draft because of its perceived weakness, and because the NCAA has moved up the date to declare, it means nothing that players have until June 17 to withdraw because they would not be eligible to return to their college teams. Obviously, the NCAA and NBA have to correlate better on these days because the kids are suffering, and because of the unpredictability of the draft, several will make questionable decisions. What’s more, of the final 50 picks of the 2012 draft, just three — Jeffery Taylor, Tyler Zeller, Maurice Harkless — are averaging 20 minutes per game for their teams . . . Former Georgetown guard Chris Wright, whom the Mavericks signed to a 10-day contract, reached the NBA despite having multiple sclerosis. The Mavericks did not sign Wright to a second 10-day deal, instead opting to sign former University of Washington guard and Toronto Raptor Justin Dentmon.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.