Less than a month into the NBA’s 2015 NBA offseason, the Portland Trail Blazers have firmly established their presence at the top of everyone’s “worst summer in the NBA” lists. The team lost four starters from last year’s club (and even a late-season replacement for one of those starters) to either free agency or trade. Coming off of a 51-win season and division title, the franchise’s front office has decided that it needs to rebuild.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
One of those former starters, shooting guard Wesley Matthews, was defined characteristically as the team’s figurative heart and soul several times last year, prior to tearing his Achilles past the mid-point of the season. The Blazers decided against offering their heart and soul a contract as he entered free agency this summer, and Matthews is less than pleased at the team’s refusal to even reach out, much less offer him a contract.
But in the end, after five seasons, the feeling was not mutual. He was greeted with silence. No phone call. No text messages. The Blazers never made an offer.
"I was pissed off," Matthews said. "I felt disrespected."
"I was angry," Matthews said, "but I also realize that this is a business."
It is, indeed. And just because this business is the same one that will pay Matthews $70 million over four years to play for the Dallas Mavericks, it doesn’t mean Matthews can feel a little pang of frustration when discussing his former team.
If Wesley is telling the truth, and we have no reason to believe that he isn’t, then Portland’s insistence on staying silent smacks of behavior unbecoming to any franchise. This, coming on the heels of firing highly respected assistant coach Kim Hughes for being caught on tape talking about what everyone already knew regarding the imminent departure of LaMarcus Aldridge, does not look good.
Wesley Matthews knows that this is a business. He grew up, with his father Wes working on the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers, in this business. Even had he not torn his Achilles in March, it would be understandable for the Blazers not to re-sign the shooting guard as they enter in their rebuilding phase. Still, you at least text the guy.
Within a span of a few months the Blazers went from fringe championship hopefuls, coming off of a second round playoff appearance and looking to take that Northwest Division title, to an also-ran. After the All-Star break Matthews tore his Achilles, his replacement in swingman Arron Afflalo didn’t exactly pan out, the team had its tails handed to them by the Memphis Grizzlies in a first round playoff ouster, and it was evident almost immediately after the season that LaMarcus Aldridge wanted out.
The plan, as undertaken by PDX general manager Neil Olshey, was an understandable one. If the 30-year old Aldridge wanted to leave Portland in pursuit of greener pastures, then it was time to rebuild around guard Damian Lillard.
In a risky move that could pay off brilliantly (though we wish Hughes were still around to help things at shootaround), the team dealt Nicolas Batum for teenaged former lottery pick Noah Vonleh. Robin Lopez, at age 27, was allowed to sign in New York (along with Afflalo, nearly at age 30). Aldridge eventually headed to San Antonio, and the 29-year old Matthews decided to sign a four-year, $54 million deal with Dallas.
That’s a lot of money to pay a man who will turn 29 during training camp, playing at the NBA’s least-essential position. That’s certainly a lot of projecting on the Mavericks’ part as well; they’ve always managed money wisely despite the lure of owner Mark Cuban’s largesse, but it’s almost as if they’re hoping that Matthews turns into a championship-level tertiary option just by paying him like one.
That’s also quite a bit of money for someone coming off of an Achilles tear.
Achilles tears are the NBA’s worst-case scenario injury. Derrick Rose fears aside, players have come back routinely from ACL tears to act as they always have (reminder: we’re 14 years removed from Jamal Crawford tearing his ACL while with the Bulls. Bring that up at a dinner party prior to never being invited out again) and even frightening stress fractures can be overcome. Achilles tears, however, have routinely hamstrung the careers of player after NBA player. They can still play following the rehabilitation, but usually not at the same level.
If anyone can return to that same level, it’s Wesley Matthews. He was seen working his typical exploits from behind the arc early in his rehab, and he’s a cerebral player who figured to age well no matter the obstacle. Furthermore, even if the Mavericks stay stuck in the realm of the mediocre, Matthews working at an average of less than one-fifth of the NBA’s salary cap in two years shouldn’t be the biggest millstone. One hopes, at least.
Even if Matthews wasn’t coming off of an Achilles tear, though, you can understand why the Blazers would pass on locking him up for four or five more years. This is a rebuilding team, now, paying more attention to 19-year-olds like Vonleh than 29-year-old free agents like Aldridge was (prior to his mid-July birthday) and Matthews will be come October.
Olshey handled the Blazer breakup with alacrity and smarts, even in dealing Batum after his worst season (and even after the needless firing of Hughes), and for that he should be credited. And Matthews, to his credit, even outpaced what we once thought was a laughable contract estimate.
Still. You call the dude.
- - - - - - -