KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Cartier Martin was hardly in unfamiliar surroundings when the Washington Wizards arrived on Monday in Kansas City, Mo., a town that hasn’t had an NBA team since the Kings left for Sacramento in 1985. Martin played four seasons at Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., about a two-hour drive west, along Interstate 70.
The night before the Wizards played the Miami Heat at Sprint Center, Martin caught up with a few friends in the area and had a nice dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, a Japanese steakhouse a few blocks from the arena — a sleek, five-year-old palace that didn’t officially open until Martin had already left in 2007.
But memories of his time in college are still fresh for Martin, such as the time during his junior year, when he helped the Wildcats end a 31-game losing streak to rival Kansas at fabled Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.
“I feel like this is my stomping grounds a little bit,” said Martin, adding that he visited the area last year. “Like a homecoming almost. I feel comfortable.”
Martin had a few supporters in the arena on Wednesday, when he scored one point in a 101-94 win over the Heat, as he continues to develop a comfort level with his role for the Wizards.
Trust and familiarity are often what a coach relies upon when deciding which players get minutes, and which ones sit. This preseason, though, those factors may have contributed to a more reduced role for Martin, who was used sparingly in the first six games — sitting altogether in two — primarily because Coach Randy Wittman already knows that Martin can handle limited minutes, or go several games without playing, and still hit a shot to force overtime, or have a 20-point game in a pinch.
Martin has done both and more during three stints over the past three seasons as a back-end rotation player with the Wizards. That dependability — and nice shooting stroke from beyond the three-point line — led him to sign a one-year contract for the veteran minimum last summer.
“We’ve had a familiarity with Cartier,” Wittman said. “He’s comfortable obviously because he was with us at the end of last year and he’s doing a nice job.”
With the additions of Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster, and the starting small forward spot still unsettled, Wittman has used the preseason as a time to see what both players are capable of doing. Ariza and Webster have alternated starts, forcing Chris Singleton — last season’s primary starter at small forward — to play power forward and leaving Martin with a front-row seat for the battle.
On Wednesday night, Webster matched Heat all-star guard Dwyane Wade with a game-high 23 points in the Wizards’ win.
Chris Singleton had 17 points, while A.J. Price and Jannero Pargo combined to score 22 points with 11 assists. Martin played 11 minutes.
“We had an understanding,” said Martin, who didn’t play against Cleveland or Brooklyn, but finally got a preseason-high 17 minutes in the Wizards’ 102-94 win in Milwaukee. “And it’s just about being professional about the whole situation. We’re stacked at every position. So there are a lot of adjustments being made. I understand that he has a lot new faces and he wants to see what those guys can do as well. I’m just waiting on my opportunity and whenever he calls me, I’ll be ready.”
In just 17 games with the Wizards last season, Martin averaged a career-best 9.3 points, added 3.4 rebounds, and shot a team-best 38.7 percent from beyond the three-point line with a career-high 44 percent from the field. He scored in double figures six times, including a career-high 22 points in a road win over Charlotte.
Wittman expects more of the same in the regular season.
“That’s exactly right, and I think he knows that,” Wittman said of Martin. “Minutes will probably be like that. Sometimes, there will be a lot. Other nights, there might not. That’s what his role is and he does a good job at it and for a coach to have a guy that can do that, that’s important.”
Webster and Ariza have more distinguished resumes, but Martin said their presence has forced him to elevate his game and push his teammates in practice.
“It’s been really competitive practices,” Martin said. “Guys have been fighting for positions and scrapping out here. We want to be a good team. So, everybody is trying to make each other better right now.”
Martin has become an expert in patience and perseverance since he went undrafted out of Kansas State in 2007. He has bounced around the Development League, played in Europe and China, and had a handful of 10-day contracts with Charlotte, Golden State and Washington. After spending the early part of the lockout-shortened season in China before finishing with the Wizards, Martin would gladly take his current situation over the alternative.
“Hey, I’m confident that they’ll use me in the best way to be able to help us win games,” said Martin. “So whatever they ask me, I’m a team player, I’m going to go out there and play my role.”