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July 09, 2024

'We're putting a great team together': Caleb Martin joins Sixers in pursuit of a championship

When Caleb Martin's free agent market cratered, the Sixers freed up enough cap space to swoop in and add a starting-caliber wing to the mix.

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Caleb Martin 7.8.24 Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports

Caleb Martin's market dried up this summer, and the Sixers took advantage, adding the battle-tested two-way wing to the mix as they attempt to upend the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference.

The Sixers acquired their top free agent target of the summer when they inked nine-time All-Star wing Paul George to a four-year max contract. They were able to hang onto their most valuable free agent, Kelly Oubre Jr., who returned to the Sixers on a two-year deal. 

The deals gave them a star-studded trio at the top of their roster with George, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, with a reliable fourth starter in Oubre. But they severely lacked another player who can definitively be trusted to play significant minutes in head coach Nick Nurse's rotation on a nightly basis.

That is where Caleb Martin comes into the picture. Martin, who is entering his age-29 season in 2024-25, signed a four-year deal with the Sixers that contains a player option in the final season. The deal has a base salary of about $35 million, with incentives that could take it up to $40 million.

Before NBA free agency began on June 30, Martin was considered to only be an option for the Sixers should they strike out on George and similarly priced stars and instead attempt to sign multiple high-quality role players. But with each passing day, cap space around the association continued to dwindle, and suddenly Martin's market was well below its expected price point. The Sixers made quick work to waive Paul Reed's non-guaranteed contract and use nearly every remaining penny of their cap space to lure Martin away from the Miami Heat, the team with which he established himself as a quality contributor and big-game player over the last three seasons.

Martin, who was without a team for a few days longer than anticipated after his negotiations on a deal to return to Miami reportedly broke down, now finds himself as a critical component of one of the most talented teams in the entire NBA.

"We're putting a great team together," Martin said. "We've got a lot of guys with a lot of talent."

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Over the last two seasons in Miami, Martin has played 135 games (72 starts) and logged 28.4 minutes per contest, posting averages of 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting a respectable 35.3 percent from beyond the arc on 3.5 long-range attempts per game.

Those are decent numbers, and Martin's regular season production has reflected that of a starting-caliber player when factoring in his versatile and tenacious defense, but perhaps his strongest selling point is how he has performed in the postseason. 

During Miami's run to the 2023 NBA Finals as the Eastern Conference's No. 8 seed, Martin was a critical piece, averaging 12.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and shooting 42.3 percent from three-point territory on significant volume (4.5 three-point attempts per game). Martin was particularly impressive during that year's Eastern Conference Finals, when the Heat toppled the heavily favored Boston Celtics in seven games. During that series, Martin averaged 19.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, shooting over 60 percent from the field and knocking down 48.9 percent of his long-range tries while attempting 6.4 triples per game. 

"Just bringing a little bit of experience having been to the Finals," Martin said when asked how his prior playoff runs with Miami can help him improve the Sixers. "I'm trying to figure out how to get there and do it with a new group of guys."

One playoff run can only mean so much, but for a Sixers team that has come up short in the NBA playoffs time and time again -- often in embarrassing fashion -- adding a player with a track record of postseason success can only help.

Martin figures to be Nurse's starting power forward -- though Oubre and George also have the requisite physical tools to guard several positions -- and is ready for the challenge. Martin is only listed at 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, but has the necessary strength and length to compete against the biggest of wings in the NBA. His 6-foot-10 wingspan will do him plenty of favors as he defends fours more regularly, as will a tenacious mentality on that end of the floor that he hopes will be appreciated by a hard-nosed Philadelphia fan base.

The most common method of maximizing cap space in the NBA is signing one of the best players available. The Sixers did that when they landed George. But another way to take advantage of that financial flexibility is to maintain patience, wait for a quality player's market to depreciate, and pounce on an opportunity to sign them to a deal below their market value. That is exactly what they did to land Martin -- and now, their starting five looks awfully promising.

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