IN THE PAST eight months Kevin Martin has seen stalwarts Mike Bibby shipped to Atlanta and Ron Artest to Houston as part of the franchise's rebuilding plan. But don't expect Martin, a rising star himself, to suddenly call himself the king of the Kings. "I want to be a leader," Martin says, "but I want to do it by working hard and helping our young guys get to the next level."
Last year Martin, 25, took his own game to the next level, finishing sixth in the league in scoring. The 6'7" shooting guard was coolly efficient, racking up 23.7 points on just 15.0 shots. He splashed three-pointers, slashed to the rim and cashed in more free throws per game than any other player in the NBA.
But Martin knows it won't be as easy without Artest around to draw defensive attention. That's why he spent several weeks during the off-season with noted basketball trainer David Thorpe in Bradenton, Fla., working on subtle aspects of his game that he felt he needed to improve, such as finishing to his left and shooting threes from the top of the key. "Ron and I took pressure off one another," Martin says. "Teams couldn't double us both. It's something I'm going to have to get used to this year."
He will also have to get used to losing more games, as youngsters such as first-round picks Jason Thompson and Donté Greene gain experience. "I'm comfortable with [rebuilding], but I don't want guys to think it's O.K. to lose," Martin says. "It's never O.K. We're going out to compete, and I'm not afraid to let the guys know it."
Even if he won't say so, the Kings are clearly Kevin Martin's team now.
A rival scout on the KINGS: For whatever reason, Kevin Martin surprises people. Every team knows not to go for his ball fake, yet he still gets people in the air and gets to the line. He doesn't get the respect he deserves, and therefore he kicks opponents' butts every night.... They paid way too much for Francisco García [$30 million over five years]. He can drive past his defender—but he bails out at the first sign of contact, which makes him a poor finisher. He's no better than a backup, but they gave him starter's money.... Spencer Hawes is a versatile big man who can put the ball on the floor with a little flair, but he needs to get stronger. He would have been a better fit as a facilitator when they were running their high-post sets under Rick Adelman.... Their top pick, 6'11" Jason Thompson from Rider, can shoot from range and has a little bounce athletically. He's mobile enough to chase guards, he runs the floor and he's a willing passer. He's going to need an open-minded coach to bring the best out of him.
Kevin Martin's league-leading 8.2 free throws made per game last season was the most by a member of the Kings since Tiny Archibald knocked down 8.3 for Kansas City--Omaha in 1972--73.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F-G Francisco García, G Bobby Jackson*, C Spencer Hawes, G Quincy Douby, F-C Shelden Williams
Record: 38--44 (11th in West)
Points scored: 102.5 (8th in NBA)
Points allowed: 104.8 (24th)
Coach: Reggie Theus (second season with Kings)
SPECIAL K With two veteran starters sent packing, the 25-year-old Martin finds himself in the role of team leader.
STEVE YEATER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES