LaVine to start? Exploring the fallout from Sam Mitchell’s Sirius XM interview
At last week’s media day, Kevin Martin had an interesting response when he was asked whether a “compelling case could be made for him to be used as a sixth man instead of a starter.” He said:
A compelling case can’t be made. I know where I stand among shooting guards in this league… I’m the starting shooting guard.”
The black and white text doesn’t do the answer justice; Martin almost shrugged off the question, as if the idea that he should come off the bench on a lottery-bound team was absurd. He even seemed a bit irritated. A few days later, in a post-practice media scrum, he gave a very diplomatic answer to a follow-up question about it:
“We’re just in here working hard, trying to get things together to have a better season than last year and we’ll go from there.”
That was somehow framed as Martin softening his stance, but I, for one, question that interpretation. Listen for yourself – here’s the audio (fast forward to the 2:00 mark):
Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon, when Justin Termine of NBA Today on Sirius XM radio tweeted the following:
— Justin Termine (@TermineRadio) October 6, 2015
Not sure what it means for K Martin, but Mitchell told me LaVine “absolutely, absolutely will start” at 2..Rubio called LaVine best at camp. — Justin Termine (@TermineRadio) October 6, 2015
Later, a brief portion of the audio became available (the rest will air Wednesday evening at 6 PM on Sirius XM channel 207):
This raises a few questions:
- Why make this decision? Kevin Martin is a better player than Zach LaVine. Period. Martin can provide more in the way of floor-spacing, playing him next to Wiggins and Rubio would help hide his defensive problems, and he’s a great safety valve to have on the court when initial actions don’t work and you need to generate a shot with under five seconds to go on the shot clock.
- Why make this decision NOW? Why not make LaVine earn his way into the starting lineup by playing well in a reserve role to start the season? Put the offensive side of the ball away for a minute: Martin is not a good defender, but LaVine was a DISASTER last season. All caps. DISASTER. Why not make him show that he’s improved on that end before promoting him to a starting spot over a 12-year veteran? The reviews of Zach from camp have been overwhelmingly positive, which is great, but why rush things? It’s not like LaVine needs a vote of confidence – the dude positively drips with swagger. The Wolves can be committed to LaVine’s development without naming him a starter and potentially pissing off one of their best players in the process.
- Does all of this mean Kevin Martin would like to be traded? He holds a player option for next season (at $7.37 million), meaning he could become a free agent this summer. The Wolves figure to be bad again, and Martin could help a contending team in a reserve role with his bench scoring – something he’d probably be much more willing to do than sitting behind an inferior player on a lottery team. So it makes sense that the Wolves would explore the trade market to see what they could get for Martin…
- … But, again, why now? His value isn’t nearly as great as it would be approaching the trade deadline. By then, the contenders have separated themselves from also-rans and
tankingdevelopmental teams. Almost all of the contenders will be dealing with an injury to someone in their rotation, and adding a veteran scorer who has hit 39% of his career three-point attempts would be an appealing thought. Plus, his $7.1 million salary wouldn’t be all that tough to fit in; even teams that are over the cap could pull that off with a little bit of creativity. But instead, it seems Sam Mitchell has created a somewhat awkward situation, and potentially forced the organization’s own hand when they didn’t really need to.
I’m sure everyone will address the situation before Wednesday night’s preseason opener at the Target Center, and I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone, Martin included, downplays the news. But it’s certainly a situation to monitor closely in the days and weeks ahead.