Clippers convince Martin time is now

February, 4, 2012
2/04/12
9:53
PM PT
Vinny Del Negro, Chris PaulAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Clippers have good chemistry so far and adding Kenyon Martin figures to strengthen the bench.

WASHINGTON -- Chauncey Billups had already heard Kenyon Martin’s questions.

Does this organization want to win? Is there a need for him?

They were the same questions Billups asked when the Clippers claimed him off amnesty waivers in December. Billups found the answers he sought and apparently delivered them to Martin, who signed with the Clippers on Friday after “a real friend-to-friend conversation” with Billups.

Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro says he expects Martin to join the Clippers in Orlando, where Los Angeles plays on Monday. Del Negro met with Martin last month, shortly after Martin severed tied with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in China.

“He looked like he was in good condition,” Del Negro said. “But that’s when he had just kind of finished up. Kenyon’s an excellent athlete. I don’t think, even if he’s not going to be game condition, because he hasn’t played. Those are questions that will get answered once we sit down and work out and get him situated.”

Until then, what about Martin’s questions?

Does this organization want to win?

Claiming Billups probably answered that. As did matching DeAndre Jordan’s offer sheet from the Warriors. And in case neither of those moves delivered the message, trading for Paul certainly did.

Now, the Clippers are affirmatively answering the sub-question: Can this organization win?

The Clippers’ 107-81 win over Washington was their fifth in six games and their biggest road victory since a 118-90 win over the Warriors on Nov. 6, 2009. They certainly look as if all their new pieces are clicking.

Then again, the Clippers have won six straight against the Wizards, a streak that dates to before Los Angeles even drafted Blake Griffin. Wins over lowly Washington aren’t exactly why Martin signed.

The Clippers clearly didn’t need him Saturday against JaVale McGee, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin. But if all goes to plan, Martin will come in handy against teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder -- with a more imposing set of bigs in Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed -- deep into the playoffs.

“Kenyon is a position kind of, mentality-wise, what I was in,” Billups said. “I don’t want to go nowhere unless they’re really trying to win and win big and not just make the playoffs, but try to win it all. I feel like that’s what this organization is trying to do, and that’s what I conveyed to Kenyon, and that was enough.”

Is there a need for him?

Look past Griffin’s 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting Saturday. Look past his 11 rebounds. Look past his eight assists, seven of which led to ultra-efficient shots -- six 3-pointers (four by Billups, one by Caron Butler and one by Mo Williams) and a DeAndre Jordan dunk.

Look past Jordan’s 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Look past his 11 rebounds. Look past his three blocks.
Look past how well those two have played nearly all season.

Behind its dominating starting bigs, Los Angeles has a big hole.

Entering Saturday, the Clippers have been great in the 492 minutes Griffin and Jordan shared the court:
Offensive rating: 109.1
Defensive rating: 99.0

They’ve been terrible in the 140 minutes without either.
Offensive rating: 94.2
Defensive rating: 110.4

Obviously, the Clippers don’t play without either often -- though they spent nearly the entire fourth quarter Saturday doing that -- but what’s an extremely troubling trend for Los Angeles is how bad the team plays when only one sits.

With only Griffin (171 minutes):
Offensive rating: 111.2
Defensive rating: 119.8

With only Jordan (66 minutes):
Offensive rating: 100.0
Defensive rating: 115.2

Martin could alleviate that problem, especially on defense, where the Clippers rank 25th in defensive rating.

“His defensive prowess is one of the best I’ve ever seen for his position. He enjoys to defend. He enjoys winning games defensively, a lot like Reggie,” Billups said, nodding one locker over to Reggie Evans.

And that’s the rub.

Griffin (36.8 minutes per game, 14th in the NBA entering Saturday) and Jordan (31.1, 73rd) already play a reasonable number of minutes for their age and ability. Will Martin taking the few minutes left from Evans, Brian Cook and Solomon Jones disrupt what appears to be a harmonious locker room?

After years of battling Martin’s Nets in the playoffs when he was with the Pistons, Billups joined forces with Martin in Denver. Martin quickly won over Billups with his intelligence.

“He was such as cerebral player,” Billups said. “I didn’t know that he was as smart of a player that he is. Because in Jersey, Jason (Kidd) kind of did all the thinking things. He wasn’t allowed to do that, or you never knew.”

Now that he knows, Billups is convinced Martin will be a “perfect fit” in Los Angeles.

Griffin said he hasn’t thought much yet about playing with Martin yet. Jordan, who knows Martin thanks to their shared Texas roots, said he’ll play just how he does with Griffin.

“I just can’t wait until he gets with us and gets in shape and gets with the offense and the defense and we can get this thing rolling,” Jordan said.

Martin is out of China, and the Clippers are out of Chinatown, where Washington plays its home games.

“It’s promising,” Griffin said. “But at the same time, that alone doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed this or that.”

For the first time -- maybe ever -- “this or that” for the Clippers seems to mean a championship. Guaranteed or not, like Griffin said, it’s quite promising, especially with Martin on board.

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