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story.lead_photo.caption Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin watches from the bench during the first half of last Saturday's first-round game against Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Photo by Associated Press / News Tribune.

Let's get this out of the way — Cuonzo Martin is in no danger of getting fired.

His contract says so. He will be back as head coach for the 2021-22 Missouri men's basketball season.

But what happens in the next few weeks will go a long way in deciding how long he will be back after that.

Martin was in position to get a great deal when he agreed to be the coach at Missouri. The Tigers had tumbled to be among the worst Power 5 programs in the country when Martin came from California and he had all the leverage in negotiations. One of the negotiated clauses in the seven-year contract states if he reached certain goals — like an NCAA Tournament appearance or a 20-win season — the schedule for when he can be terminated without cause is extended. And that extension now runs through the end of next season.

And losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Oklahoma is not a cause to be fired. Xavier Pinson entering the transfer portal is not a cause to be fired. Parker Braun and Mark Smith entering the transfer portal, like both did Saturday, is not a cause to be fired. Although as a senior, it's not sure thing Smith will be playing anywhere next season.

It's not good by any means, but not a cause to be fired.

I understand the frustration of Missouri fans. This was a team full of seniors, and seniors can make NCAA Tournament runs. With the COVID-19 protocols limiting preseason work, a team that had played together figured to have a big leg up this season.

I think that showed early, with Missouri picking up wins early against teams like Illinois, Wichita State and Arkansas.

But other teams, perhaps with more talent, caught up as the season went on. But that doesn't explain the absolutely ugly losses to Mississippi and Mississippi State. Those Missouri teams looked like they wanted to be anywhere else but on the basketball court those nights. It wasn't a good look for Martin or the Tigers.

Missouri has signed five players in its freshman class. No one knows how much they will be able to contribute next season.

That's why the next few weeks could decide how long Martin sticks around CoMo. The transfer portal has taken away from Missouri. Now it's time to give.

There are more than 900 players in the transfer portal. There aren't around 900 players who can help Missouri right away, so Martin needs to identify the best of who's out there that can fit his system to win next season.

The Tigers have already added Green Bay guard Amari Davis, a proven scorer in the Horizon League. It's a start. Now a big man who can grab rebounds and score around the basket would be a nice second piece.

Martin has a big selling point to potential players — the opportunity for immediate playing time in a Power 5 program that has advanced to the NCAA Tournament two times in the past four years.

Back to Martin's contract. Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk said about a month ago the university was open to discussing extending the deal. The way the season ended, and is continuing with departure of players, may have brought a bit of a halt to that.

There might be whispers indicating Martin might not be planning on making Columbia his long-term home. A report in a Las Vegas newspaper last week said Martin was among the candidates to take the open UNLV position that eventually went to Kevin Kruger. You just don't throw out a random name like Martin without hearing something either from the school or someone in Martin's camp showing at least a little interest in the other or using it as a chip in contract talks.

The next few weeks of Martin and staff on the recruiting trail definitely will go a long way in deciding how long he stays at Missouri.

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