Martin’s persistence pays off as Pistons make him a part of their future

Cartier Martin’s hustle late in a blowout four years ago stuck in Stan Van Gundy’s mind and won him a guaranteed contract from the Pistons.
Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Here’s a story both struggling players and coaches everywhere can embrace and champion. Late in the 2009-10 season – three years after Cartier Martin went undrafted out of Kansas State – Stan Van Gundy’s Orlando Magic were blowing out a Washington team playing out the string when he couldn’t help but notice an anonymous player busting his backside on every possession.

Four years later, Van Gundy now running the front office as well as coaching the Detroit Pistons and looking for perimeter shooters to solve a critical need, he couldn’t help but remember the passion Martin put on display that night in Orlando.

“He continued to play the game not only very hard but professionally and unselfishly,” Van Gundy recalled. “He’s a guy who every time I’ve seen him – close game, blowout, whatever – he plays the same way. He has a consistency to what he does and a professionalism and it caught my eye.”

“I remember exactly what he’s talking about,” Martin told me this week. “We were in Orlando and we were losing pretty bad and getting a few trash minutes, but those are minutes that you’ve got to go in and compete and I was trying to get my guys going. I’m that type of guy. With whatever team I’m with, I’m going to try to get my guys into it. I’m going to work hard and play until the clock goes off.”

Martin has played in Turkey, Italy and China in and around his stints in the NBA with Charlotte, Golden State, Washington, Atlanta and Chicago. He’s signed eight 10-day contracts – four last season alone – and never had the type of security Van Gundy offered him in free agency this season: a reported two-year guaranteed deal with the second at Martin’s option, so if he enjoys a good season he can opt out and look for even more security next summer.

Martin came to agreement on a contract with the Pistons, as did Jodie Meeks, on the first day of free agency on July 1 – and that, in itself, was unique. Players who agree to veteran’s minimum deals almost always are the last to sign, filling out rosters with salary cap exceptions after NBA teams have committed their space under the cap to players on bigger deals. It told Martin that Van Gundy’s interest was genuine.

“It gave me a lot of confidence for those guys to call me the first day of free agency and let me know they were really interested in me and wanted to bring me in,” Martin said. “It says a lot about them and it says they see a lot in me, that I’m a guy who’s going to come in and put in the work.”

Martin, a 6-foot-7 native of Houston, has played mostly at small forward but might slot in at shooting guard as well for the Pistons. At the former position, he’ll compete with Kyle Singler, Caron Butler and Gigi Datome for minutes; at the latter, Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are first in line. This much is for sure: After knowing nothing but clawing for his basketball survival, competition for playing time isn’t going to intimidate Martin in the least.

“I’ve seen it all. I’ve fought and fought and I continue to fight and I still feel like I’ve got something to prove,” he said. “So I’m not content with where I’m at. I still want to continue to get better. I want to be a great player and I want to play, so no matter who is in front of me, I’m going to give it my all.”

He also sees an opportunity for minutes as a stretch four after seeing the lineups Van Gundy deployed around Dwight Howard in Orlando.

“Last year in Atlanta, I was having to transition over to the two and also I will play a little stretch four,” he said. “That opens up the floor. You get some outside shooting and you’ve got one dominant big inside, it gives him a little space to make his moves and then it opens up the floor for the guys on the wings. I think it’s great. You have to evolve a little bit. The game is evolving. Players are getting bigger, faster, stronger, so you have to find different ways to try to win.”

And when Martin mentions “one dominant big,” yes, he’s talking about Andre Drummond.

“The first year watching him, I was like, that kid, he’s going to be OK. And the second year, it was, oh, man, that kid is going to be great,” Martin said. “Now seeing him over with Team USA, I think he’s going to have a great season. It will be exciting for Detroit and for the Pistons.”

As for that first name, Cartier?

“A movie came out back in the ’80s called ‘The Cartier Affair” (starring David Hasselhoff and Joan Collins in the title role),” he grinned. “I’ve never seen it – I want to check it out, actually – but my mom saw that name and it caught her eye. She hadn’t heard anybody else named that so she gave it to me and it grew with me. I haven’t heard anybody else named Cartier yet, so I had to name my son Cartier. He’s the second.”

Given the security of the first NBA multiyear contract he’s ever been offered and the confidence of a head coach who also happens to be the front-office executive who reached out to him on the first day of free agency, Martin is now free to focus on making a name for himself. He likes everything about the setup – from his role as a shooter in an offense that needs them to Van Gundy’s proven expertise at running a system he sees suiting his talents.

“He did a great job with Dwight, so I know he’s going to do a great job here with Andre and Greg (Monroe) and josh (Smith) as well,” he said. “I think he’s a great coach for that type of system and I think it’s going to work out great for us.”