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Kragthorpe: As I've always said, Matthews a bargain

Published May 10, 2011 11:33 am

NBA • Am I glad Trail Blazers stuck with the ex-Jazzman? Well … um … er … uh …
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

With every Wesley Matthews shot that poured through the basket Thursday in Portland, I became more relieved that I never declared how the Trail Blazers ridiculously overpaid Matthews in luring him away from the Jazz.

Not as far as you knew, anyway.

How would Yogi Berra say this? I never really wrote what I wrote.

When the Jazz traded for Al Jefferson late one night in July, editors tore apart the front page and spiked my column deriding the Blazers for signing Matthews to an exorbitant offer sheet.

My opening paragraph questioned why Larry Miller — the Blazers' president — kept trying to punish the Jazz. Clever stuff, I thought, considering how Portland's signing Paul Millsap to an offer sheet the previous summer made the Jazz pay big dollars upfront to match his offer as a restricted free agent.

The Blazers were doing much the same thing with Matthews, right after his rookie season.

So my strong advice was for the Jazz not to match, forcing their Northwest Division rivals to be stuck with overpaying Matthews via a five-year, $32.5 million contract. Portland would have all that money tied up in a backup to All-Star guard Brandon Roy, with a bunch of other wing players also on the roster.

Once the Jefferson news broke, however, some of my finest work went unpublished. Thank goodness.

While that sequence of events saved me some embarrassment, the attacks of my conscience increased as Matthews became the Blazers' No. 2 scorer, averaging 15.9 points, while playing all 82 games. And after Matthews scored 14 straight Portland points in the first quarter of Game 3 against Dallas (he finished with 25) and helped win Saturday's Game 4, I could hold it in no longer.

Yeah, the Blazers sure are stuck with Matthews. All he did was save their season, with Roy missing 35 games because of injuries. At this rate, the salaries of $6 million to $7 million that Portland owes Matthews in the last three years of the contract will make him a bargain.

This is both a refreshing story and a case of second-guessing for the Jazz and their fans, who admire Matthews' rise. Even coach Tyrone Corbin is a fan.

"To see a guy like him have success is just great because I know how hard he worked and how bad he wanted to be a part of this league," Corbin said.

Matthews made the NBA's minimum salary ($457,588) in 2009-10. The irony of being an undrafted player was that he was not tied down by a multiyear contract. As I wrote last summer (and that column was printed), Matthews deservedly would be rewarded for one of the top-five seasons ever produced by a Jazz rookie — maybe the best of all, considering his starting point.

At the time, I figured he would re-sign with the Jazz or join a team that really needed him. Not the Blazers. Once Matthews departed, I figured the Jazz would be fine with Raja Bell as his replacement. Hmmm. How'd that work out?

So as questions persist about the Jazz's efforts to keep Matthews before he signed Portland's offer sheet, some fans have regrets. Longtime season-ticket holder Riley Risto, of Midway, describes tuning into the NBA playoffs as "sort of like self-flagellation" because "it's pretty disappointing to think about the could-have- and should-have-beens when watching the Jazz of the East [Chicago] and Wes Matthews extend their seasons."

Saturday was more bearable for him, in that sense. Matthews was mortal in Game 4, scoring 11 points, although he was on the floor during Portland's big finish.

Chicago failed to sweep Indiana, with Carlos Boozer's tying 3-point attempt hitting the rim. If that shot had gone in after Boozer never made a 3-pointer in six seasons with the Jazz, Risto's degree of punishment would have hit a whole other level.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.comTwitter: @tribkurtfacebook.com/kurt.kragthorpe






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