Much to some people's surprise, Kenyon Martin is still wearing a Nuggets uniform. As for his season-ending suspension during last spring's playoffs and his constant struggle battling knee injuries, he hopes those are in the past, too.
Even with USA Basketball star Carmelo Anthony present, the biggest spotlight at the Nuggets' media day Monday was on Martin. That's because the organization suspended him for the final three games of the Nuggets' first-round playoff loss to the Clippers last spring for conduct detrimental to the team, leading to trade rumors during the offseason.
"I try to put it behind me as much as possible," Martin said. "It wasn't only a messed-up year for me, it was a messed-up year for the organization. Just a lot of things going on. A lot of talk, speculation about different stuff.
"I put it behind me for the most part. I still have my issues with me playing well. That's what I want to do."
If the seventh-year NBA veteran could go back in time, he said he wouldn't have played last season until January in order to give his left knee time to heal from offseason micro-fracture surgery. Instead, he tried to play and was in and out of the lineup all season, leading to tension that eventually led to his blowup at halftime of a playoff game.
He said his knee was so bad that he couldn't walk up the stairs or play with his kids without feeling pain. Now, Martin said his knee feels as good as it has been since he joined the team in the summer of 2004.
"Hopefully it can stay that way through playing," he said. "I think I got my lift back for the most part."
Injury woes caused Martin to practice rarely last season, which became an issue with coach George Karl, who didn't start Martin in the the first two games of the playoffs. And, with the Nuggets down 56-34 at halftime of Game 2, Martin had words for Karl and said he wasn't going back in the game. The team suspended him the next day.
"I don't regret it," Martin said of his conduct. "I felt a certain way about the situation and I addressed it. I can't be a man and go back on what I feel is right and wrong. The way I handled it probably wasn't right. But the situation that day, I felt I was right about it. So I'm going to force it."
While Denver dangled him as trade bait during the offseason, the suspension, concerns about his knee and his hefty contract (five years, $71.9 million remaining) played a big role in Martin staying put.
"What happened at the end of the season happened, and what happened after that was out of my control. But I'm here now," Martin said.
Karl and Martin have seemingly buried the hatchet. They had a positive meeting last Thursday that included Martin's agent, Brian Dyke.
"I think it's pretty cool where we are at right now," Karl said. "I don't know if it's a real hip way of defining it. But every conversation I've had with Kenyon since the incident and even last year through the drudgery of the season, Kenyon cares about basketball. Kenyon cares about his team. It's just two guys who probably are similar more than I'd like butting heads a little bit ... probably a lot.
"The point is getting him healthy, getting him confident, getting him feeling good about being on the basketball court again. And for me, how I enable him to do that is what I want. I want somewhere along the way you to see a happy Kenyon and coach. And I think that's possible."
Martin said, "I don't have no problems with nobody. I'm here to play basketball. He's the coach. I'm the player. I'm here to do my job."
Teammates believe Martin will follow through.
Carmelo Anthony said: "(He) actually came to me. He said, 'I just want to win games.' He told me, 'I let you down last year and it won't happen no more.' I'm thrilled to hear that from a guy like that."
While his contract is often criticized, Martin uses it as motivation.
"Damn the contract," he said. "It's whether I can lay my head down at night and be comfortable with the performance and the way I play every night. The money is there. The money is going to be there. I worked hard to get it, and it's there.
"So I'm going out to do my job to the best of my abilities. And if I can lay my head down at night and look myself in the mirror like, 'Kenyon, you gave it your all.' I can do that."
It's a new year and I'm willing to give Kenyon a clean slate. He's here and whether or not I, or anyone else, likes it, that's the way it is. He says he's healthy and he sounds motivated. Let's see how it translates to the court.