Erik Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler are two huge reasons why the Miami Heat have a chance to compete for a title in the NBA Finals this year, but if one thing has become crystal clear in the playoffs, it is that Caleb Martin is the most important player on this roster.
An undrafted forward out of Nevada, many thought that Martin was too small to be a true forward in the NBA and that he would be nothing more than a role player at best. Well, that was the case for Martin through the first few years of his career, but after playing with the Heat on a two-way contract a season ago, he is proving to be a major X-factor in their championship efforts.
With Tyler Herro going down in the first-round of the playoffs with a broken hand, Martin stepped up into a bigger role for the Heat and his confidence skyrocketed game after game. In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, the 27-year-old forward had some of the best basketball games he has ever played, as he averaged 19.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting 60.2 percent from the floor and 48.9 percent from three-point range.
How's that for a role player?
Martin has put himself on notice in the NBA Playoffs this year and without him, the Heat may have been eliminated from postseason contention a long time ago. He made at least two threes in every single game against the Celtics and he recorded back-to-back 20-point, 10-rebound performances in Game 6 and Game 7 of the series. Not to mention, Butler beat out Martin by a single vote for the Eastern Conference Finals MVP award.
Perhaps the most impressive feat Martin accomplished in this series against the Celtics was that he became the seventh player in the last 40 years to record at least 135 points on 60 percent shooting in the conference finals, joining the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Shawn Kemp and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, per CBS Sports.
The tear Martin has been on has been incredible, yet he continues to make everything about the team and focusing on the goal at large instead of focusing on his personal accomplishments.
“I definitely reflect on where I started and the journey it's taken to get here, and even as early as the two-way last year,” Martin stated in his postgame remarks. “But I think more than anything, it's kind of a weird feeling because I'm also understanding that as happy as I am, as grateful I am to be here, I also understand that we have four more. The job is not done.”
Regardless of what happens in the NBA Finals, the Heat will have to make some major decisions in the offseason pertaining to their roster.
As things stand right now, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson are set to make a combine $152 million. With the league's new CBA deal putting restrictions on teams going over the tax lines, Miami could be in a little bit of trouble financially.
Max Strus and Gabe Vincent are also the team's two biggest free agents and the Heat will have to open up their checkbooks for both players if they are to keep them. With his massive performances lately, Martin's contract situation has suddenly become a topic of discussion as well despite the fact that he will not be a free agent this summer.
Signing a three-year, $20.4 million deal with the Heat before the start of the 2022-23 season, Martin is set to make $6.8 million next year. After that though, he owns a $7.1 million player option for the 2023-24 season that he could opt out of to earn a much bigger contract, something that is beginning to look likely if he can continue to play at a high level.
How the Heat allocate their funds this offseason will be critical to their long-term success, especially since Martin is playing so well for them right now. Not having to worry about a new contract with him entering the offseason takes a lot of pressure off of Miami's front office, but at the same time, they may not be able to afford Martin a year from now if a vast majority of their roster remains under contract.
What happens in the regular season matters, but what happens in the playoffs is what builds a player's legacy. We have seen countless talents through the years earn massive contracts after breakout performances in the NBA Playoffs and the Heat's undrafted forward may just be the next in line.
All that matters for Martin and the Heat right now though is competing for a championship, as four games stands between them and glory.
“We didn't go through what we went through all the regular season and my personal journey to stop here,” Martin said. “We are trying to get what we came here to get, so we've got four more.”