This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Wesley Matthews has the big contract. He has roster security. He knows that he'll be in the NBA for at least the next five years.
Strangely, those facts have done nothing to diminish the huge chip on his shoulder. He's still playing in Portland like he's trying to make the Trail Blazers. He's still putting in time shooting the ball before games, reacting as if every miss could be his last as a professional. He's still doing everything he can to make himself a better player.
When the Utah Jazz face Portland on Monday night in the Rose Garden, they'll see for the second time in less than a week what their front office surrendered in July when it chose not to match the five-year, $34-million contract offer extended by the Blazers. On Thursday, Matthews led all scorers with 21 points. He made jumpers, went to the basket and played the same defense that earned him a starting spot last season in Utah as a rookie.
And yet, he wasn't happy with himself.
"There were things that I could've done much better," said Matthews, who made the Jazz last season as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Marquette. "I thought that I could've played better. I'm always going to have an edge, I'm always going to go hard. There are some players who play this game to be financially secure. Then there are some players who play to be financially secure, yet want to be the best at what they do. I want to be the best at what I do."
It's that hunger, that belief in himself that defines Matthews as a player. And even when he signed his big deal, the questions still persisted. What role would he play in Portland? How many minutes would he get on a team that features Brandon Roy, one of the NBA's best shooting guards?
If the first week of the preseason is any indication, the answers are substantial and plenty. Matthews isn't a starter, but he's a solid sixth man, and is alternating between both wing positions. He's leading Portland in scoring, and he has showcased an expanded set of skills.
Matthews is handling the ball more within the Portland offense than he did last season with the Jazz. He's fearless at attacking the basket, and defenders are forced to respect his ability off the dribble, which is opening up room for him to get his jumper off.
"He's good," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "He's a very good player and we're happy to have him. He can do a lot. We're just trying to fit him in and see the things he can do and put him in position to be productive. He's just a solid player. He's very smart, and we're happy to have him."
The most constant thing about Matthews is his penchant for talking. Last Thursday, as he was scoring on his former teammates, he was telling them all about it. The Jazz were forewarned: Matthews told C.J. Miles before the game he would be scoring often. That led to good-natured trash talk, which Miles was only too happy to speak about following the Jazz win.
"He's always going to be aggressive," Miles said. "He's always going to go at you. That's just him. He's a great player and he's always going to be mad at something. Last year he wanted to prove that he belonged in the NBA. This year he's going to want to prove that he should've been drafted all along. That drive is what makes him a good player."
• Scored 21 points vs. Utah on Thursday in the Jazz preseason opener.
• Started at shooting guard last season after Ronnie Brewer was traded to Memphis.
• Signed a five-year, $34-million contract with Portland during the summer.
Jefferson, Elson travel with team
Utah Jazz centers Al Jefferson and Francisco Elson are traveling with the team for a two-game road trip.
Jefferson (gastric distress) is probable for a preseason contest Monday night against Portland at Memorial Coliseum. Elson (strained right hamstring) is questionable.
Jefferson did not practice Saturday due to illness. Elson has missed two consecutive practices, and sat out the Jazz's first preseason game Thursday against the Blazers.