If you say the name Kenyon Martin to a Denver Nuggets fan, you are likely setting yourself up for a tirade. It could be a mini-tirade, or it could be an overly verbose tirade. Most fans have a difficult time looking past the massive 7 year, $92 million contract that Kiki Vandeweghe gave Martin as part of a sign and trade with the Nets back in the summer of 2004.
The Nets, led by former owner Bruce Ratner, were looking to cut costs, yet Vandeweghe was afraid that New Jersey would take advantage of Martin’s restricted status and match Denver’s six year, $70 million offer sheet. Despite all reports to the contrary, Vandeweghe choose to give up three first round picks, all of which ended up outside the lottery, in order to avoid waiting the 14 days to find out what everyone suspected, that the Nets would not match the offer sheet. As a result by doing a sign and trade, Denver could give Martin a seventh year on his deal and larger annual raises.
Martin’s contract was a heavy price to pay, I remember personally being irked that Denver gave up the three first round picks and thought his contract was a little too high, however, Martin seemed to be a near perfect fit as a defensive minded power forward who could run the floor and jump out of the gym. Kenyon’s lone weakness was his lack of a low post game. I also remember thinking he was undersized and studied his game log for how the big time power forwards in the west performed against him. I expected to see a list of huge games by the likes of Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan when they played New Jersey, however, to my surprise, their numbers were largely pedestrian. At that point I had hope that Kenyon would be the player that Denver needed to push them from a playoff team, to a contending team.
Denver did win 49 games in Kenyon’s first season in Denver thanks to a late season push spurred on by the hiring of George Karl. The Nuggets ended up losing a tough first round series to the Spurs that spring, but the foundation seemed to have been laid for Denver to contend in 2005-06.
Kenyon quietly had surgery after the season, but by all reports it was nothing to be concerned about. He was expected to be fine for training camp and would be back to full strength in plenty of time for Denver to make the leap we all expected. For some reason, Kenyon was not at full strength come training camp and he was struggling with swelling and pain in his knee. Kenyon did take the court on opening night and played in Denver’s first six games. He then missed the seventh and only played eight minutes in the eighth before sitting out four more games due to his knee.
Fans began to turn on Kenyon wondering why he was not healthy. The team told everyone he was going to be healthy, but he clearly was not and Kenyon took the blame. It was not until later in the season that the Nuggets announced Kenyon had undergone the dreaded microfracture procedure in May of 2005. The truth is Kenyon probably should not have even been running, let alone playing in a game. However, the damage had been done. Kenyon was now overpaid and unhealthy. That spring when he was kicked off the bench by George Karl during the first half of game two of Denver’s first round series against the Los Angeles Clippers and suspended for the remainder of the series, which lasted all of five games, Kenyon was public enemy number one in Denver.
Heading into 2006-07 Kenyon was now fully recovered from his microfracture surgery. Plus he and Karl had patched things up and Martin was hoping for a bounce back season. In a major blow to the Nuggets and Kenyon personally, Martin only played in two games and was forced to have microfracture surgery again, this time on his other knee. Kenyon had gone from a disappointment to a free agent bust. He was now viewed as the worst thing that could have happened to the Nuggets. After three seasons he had played in just over half of Denver’s regular season games (128 games played out of a total 246) and now the Nuggets had four more seasons of his massive salary to weigh them down.
He was untradeable, unable to play and generally unwanted.
It would have been easy for Kenyon to give up, collect his millions and feel sorry for himself. Many players failed to recover from a single microfracture surgery, let alone two. In a display of determination and heart, Martin rehabbed his other knee and came back at full strength once again for the 2007-08 season.
Kenyon is not the dominating defensive force he once was. However, he is still one of the better post defenders in the league and over the previous three seasons he has played in nearly 80% of Denver’s regular season games (195 of 246) and more importantly, he has not missed a single playoff game over those three seasons. He has not clashed with Karl and has been a leader on the court on the defensive end of the floor.
In looking back at his first six seasons in Denver, I believe Kenyon has taken the blame for the mistakes of others. It was Vandeweghe who not only overpaid Kenyon, but also gave up the three picks to have the right to do so. Kenyon and his representatives were certainly pushing for Denver to work a sign and trade in order to earn the higher raises with the extra year on the contract, but never once do I remember reading that Martin refused to sign the offer sheet. It was the Nuggets front office who feared the Nets would match the offer that triggered the sign and trade.
Secondly, had fans been made aware that Kenyon underwent microfracture surgery in May of 2005, he would have been viewed as some kind of conquering hero for even being on the court to start the season instead of some kind of slow-healing wimp for struggling to return.
Denver is guilty of overpaying Kenyon, giving up too much to sign him and not alerting fans to the extent of his injury in 2005, but Kenyon is the one who has paid the price.
I have always thought Kenyon was an extremely hard worker who was willing to do the dirty work to help Denver in games. You can imagine my disappointment then when Martin proclaimed that because the Nuggets have not granted him a contract extension he is going to take his time coming back from his current knee injury.
The 32-year-old forward is battling back from knee surgery he underwent in June. But without an extension, Martin said he will take his time returning to the team. If he had an extension, “I’d be playing right now.”
“I’m not rushing whatsoever. The day I come back is the day I come back,” Martin said. “Think about it: Ain’t nobody in a hurry to give me a contract, so why would I be in a hurry to rush back and risk further injury? Makes all the sense in the world, right? Trust me, I’ve thought about it plenty.
Kenyon apparently believes Denver gave the money that should have been his to Al Harrington.
I think Kenyon may be posturing a little here. In the Denver Post article he claims if he had been offered an extension, he would be playing right now. However, in the ESPN.com story, he says that he is doing everything that Dr. Richard Steadman, the world renowned knee specialist who performed the surgery, has instructed him to do. That leaves me to believe that his proclamation he would be on the court right now is not entirely accurate as Dr. Steadman has obviously not cleared him to resume basketball activities.
Whether Kenyon could be on the court right now or not, his comments are troubling. He points out that he was injured through the wear and tear of doing his job with the Nuggets and that they owe him. What he does not point out, and as we have previously discussed, is that he was handsomely compensated. NBA players seem to have this silly notion that they are paid in advance. Kenyon wants to know he is getting his money next year so that he will work hard this year.
The truth is, and this is something someone close to Kenyon needs to explain to him, he is being paid a tanker load of money, $16.5 million, but who is counting, this season to work his butt off to get back on the court now. Apparently, that $16.5 million is payment for what Kenyon has already done because it is guaranteed. It is certainly possible Kenyon will never make another dime playing basketball after this season and despite the fact Kenyon is getting paid this season unless he starts running over old ladies or shooting at traffic copters from his house he still has to own up to the responsibility to earn every penny that will come his way for the 2010-11 season.
Kenyon may have been unfairly labeled as the bad guy through no fault of his own in the past. This time, no one can take any blame for the backlash he is due other than himself.