Either Caleb Martin doesn’t fully grasp this NBA free-agency thing, or the Miami Heat have completely sold the emerging forward that their way is the best way.
An impending free agent, one whose multi-positional diversity could draw outside interest, Martin essentially exited his first season with the Heat asking where he could sign on the dotted line.
It is, of course, hardly that simple, with Martin to be extended a $2.1 million qualifying offer for next season from the Heat by the end of the month and then left to see if there is a higher outside offer.
But even then, Martin isn’t sounding as if the priority is seeking the highest bidder, no show-me-the-money approach here.
“I’m obviously being open-minded,” he said amid the Heat’s exit interviews, “but I want to be here. I’ve gotten better here. And I believe I will get better here.
“Obviously I just want a great situation, no matter what. But I just think that how close I’ve gotten with the guys and the people here and how much better and more confident I’ve been here, I feel like my team and my staff believes in me and believes that I’m going to get better here.”
The Heat showed their belief at midseason, when, under no obligation to do so, they upgraded him from a two-way contract to a standard deal at twice the paygrade. The move came after Martin helped energize the bench over the first half of the season, before injuries began to exact a toll.
“Going into free agency, this is my first experience with that,” he said. “But I want to be here. I love being here. I want to be here. So that’s all I’ve got on my mind right now.”
With the Heat carrying so many high-end contracts, from Jimmy Butler to Bam Adebayo to Kyle Lowry, and even to Duncan Robinson, Martin would appear to be the right player at the right price point.
“I feel this is definitely the place for me, and that’s what it’s felt like since I’ve gotten here,” he said, signed by the Heat in September after he was waived in August by the Charlotte Hornets. “And that’s why I feel like I’ve made such a big jump so quickly while I’ve been here and why I think I’ll make even bigger jumps while I’m here. It’s hard to explain to some people if they’re not experiencing that.”
Over the course of his first Heat season, Martin was cast from shooting guard to small forward to power forward, even called upon to start 12 games. It is that versatility that enhances the value.
“And I think it’s a tip-of-the-iceberg type of thing with me, where I feel like I can be one of those guys that fluctuates where it’s kind of whatever a team needs from me,” he said. “To be a guy from off the bench, I feel like I can step in and start. Whatever a team needs from me, I feel like I can fill that point.
“I think my game expanded, shooting-wise, being more efficient, being more consistent and still learning how to do that year in and year out.”
There was a point where it appeared Martin might price himself out of the Heat’s range, the team still unable to go above the $10.6 million mid-level exception to match outside offers.
But after the injuries and slide further down the rotation, to where he was held out of the season-ending Game 7 finale against the Boston Celtics, the market has reset to a place where a return could prove prudent for both player and team.
“I think it was a big season,” he said. “Obviously, it’s having to deal with a lot in such a short amount of time in one season, to see it up and down. Whether it’s rotations or injuries or whatever, I just think it really helped progress my mindset, mentality going into it, just to be able to adjust to everything and being OK with it and accepting that part of my role.
“That’s the role I accepted when I came here and when I got signed, to know that was going to be my position, and things were going to fluctuate and I had to be OK with it and adjust on the fly. So I think that’s only going to make me a better player and eventually stronger.”