Caleb Martin has come too far from humble, undrafted, two-way-contract NBA roots to assume anything when it comes to the Miami Heat’s starting lineup in Wednesday night’s season opener against the Chicago Bulls at FTX Arena.
So even after opening at power forward in what certainly looked like a dress rehearsal in Wednesday night’s exhibition victory over the visiting New Orleans Pelicans, the 27-year-old forward laughed when asked if he envisioned such a destiny as a starter on a championship contender.
“When I first came in, I was just looking trying to get a locker,” he said, with most roster longshots reduced to dressing on a folding chair near the showers. “That’s all I was trying to do. That’s all I was focused on. So I couldn’t even have told you I’d have been in this position a couple of years ago.
“So I’m rolling with it and I’m still learning. Still trying to prove that I can do that, too.”
In other words, the three-year, $20 million contract signed this summer has not changed the man, still centered more on a positive finish for his team than a starting role for himself.
“Starting itself isn’t the end-all for me,” said the fourth-year forward out Nevada. “It’s playing minutes, playing important minutes at important times. And having a productive role is more important to me than just to say I started.
“You can start and be out in five minutes and not go back in. Sometimes it’s more for show. I’d rather be in when it matters, whenever it is.”
Based on comments regarding the starting lineup from Martin and teammates, it is clear that coach Erik Spoelstra prefers nothing assumed nor made public.
So Martin instead mentions how the Heat also have the ability to thrive with Max Strus starting at power forward or having Jimmy Butler shift to the position or utilizing other roster components.
“Max starting at the four sometimes, you bring really great outside shooting at that position,” he said. “You bring me in there, you bring length and energy. Jimmy slides to the four, you got a bucket getter, a go-to guy at the four. So things change all the time.”
One change Martin intends to create is demanding additional attention — and respect — from opposing defenders.
Unlike last season’s starter at the position, P.J. Tucker, who departed in the offseason to the Philadelphia 76ers, Martin has no intention of remaining parked in the corners, spotting up for 3-pointers.
“Things I’ve learned, especially last season and coming into this season, I’ve kind of seen they’ve put some of their best players on me defensively, to try to take the pressure off those guys,” Martin said. “They typically put some of their best players on the weak link offensively, and I take offense to that.
“So any time I can put pressure on guys when they’re trying to get plays off, I’m going to try to do it best I can. So I use that as motivation. When I get downhill and see opportunities, make them work like they make us work.”
So far, so good.
“I think it’s some big shoes to fill when you talk about Tuck, that’s still my guy,” Butler said. “I think Caleb has been doing exceptionally well, talking about switching, making shots, being aggressive, being a great teammate. Like I said, it’s tough to do what P.J. does, but I think Caleb does it extremely well.”
With all of the aforementioned credit for others, Martin said the fit alongside Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry feels right.
“I feel like I just jell with a lot of guys,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got great chemistry with a lot of guys. It hasn’t been too much of an adjustment. My role has pretty much been set in stone since I’ve gotten here. There’s opportunities and moments and windows to where I can capitalize more offensively, but overall, it’s plug in, space the floor, run the floor, offensive rebound, pick up the best guy on the floor, if Jimmy’s not fighting me on it.
“It’s been the same and it’s pretty much going to stay the same right now. But I just think the difference is this year I’ll just find more opportunities and more moments to capitalize offensively.”