- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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Teams that have shown an interest in free agent forward Kenyon Martin have been told to expect a decision by the end of the weekend, if not sooner, after FIBA's surprise decision Wednesday night to clear him to return to the NBA two weeks ahead of schedule, according to sources close to the situation.
NBA teams were notified Thursday that Martin is officially an unrestricted free agent, league sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
The Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have all pursued the former Denver forward, who reached a buyout agreement with the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers on Dec. 21 and has been back in the United States ever since. It was expected that he would not be eligible to return to the NBA until Feb. 15, when that club's season was over. However Martin petitioned for an early release and FIBA officials surprisingly granted it.
"It's a recruiting battle now, he's got like five playoff teams that want him," according to an executive with one of the teams in the running for the 34-year old. "He got clearance a lot quicker than anyone thought, including himself."
Because he's been home for over a month, Martin has already met with several teams, including Atlanta on Thursday. He met with the Clippers in early January and was told to watch their games and see if he thinks he would fit in, according to a team source. Since then Clippers guard Chauncey Billups -- with whom Martin played in Denver -- has taken the lead in recruting him.
"If the Clippers end up getting him, Chauncey should get all the credit," the source said. "Chauncey has been the guy talking to him, which is kind of ironic considering Chauncey wasn't happy when they claimed him. It shows you how much he's turned around."
Billups and Martin also have the same agent, Andy Miller.
The Clippers could offer Martin their mini-mid-level exception or $2.5 million. Miami and the Lakers can only offer him a minimum contract. Atlanta and San Antonio can offer more.
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com
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