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Wesley Matthews: Will the Jazz Match?

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Most of the debate surrounding the Wesley Matthews contract offer centers on how good he would or wouldn't be for the Blazers and whether he's worth almost $7 million per year.  Short answers:  He'd be great for Portland in the abstract.  He's a good shooter, good defender, a really nice back-up shooting guard bringing exactly the qualities the Blazers need to add in the backcourt.  Whether he's worth $34 million to Portland depends on your view.  If the Blazers are in the "adding final pieces" phase then yeah, why not?  If he has the right mix of abilities you go out and get him and make your team as good as it can be.  If you're in the "pieces aren't here yet" phase then you start to squirm.  That is an expensive contract for a back-up at a position where you pray you don't need much help.  If you start worrying about things like luxury tax, retaining other players, and adding another star somewhere along the line then this is a pricey move without the flashy payoff.   Andre Miller makes about what Matthews will make under this deal and Matthews isn't going to bring nearly the kind of lift that Miller does, nor could you trade him for a Miller-level player when he's making that kind of money.  Personally I would be quite happy to get Matthews but I would have preferred the originally-reported offer of $5 million per year because that's only spendy and not potentially outrageous.  Portland had to have this guy targeted in order to make that offer but I wonder if watching the free agent parade roll by without anyone stopping at their booth made the Blazers jump hard when maybe they should have shopped around more.

Leaving that aside, the question of the hour is whether the Jazz will match Portland's offer.  Here, too, you could go either way.  Utah has lost plenty of last year's roster already.  Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver are all gone.  That leaves the cupboard bare, particularly at shooting guard.  In Matthews' absence they are looking at Othyus Jeffers as their only legit two.  Jeffers has played 72 minutes of NBA basketball in his lifetime.  When you look at the list of the remaining free-agent shooting guards Matthews starts to look plenty attractive, especially when you consider that $7 million per isn't out of line for a decent starter.  The mass departures may make absorbing that contract easier than it would have been.  The Jazz are at $58 million in salary without figuring in Matthews.  Even a front-loaded $9 million year would not push them over the luxury tax threshold.  [Edit:  And as our friend Storyteller points out that $9 million wouldn't all count against the cap anyway.]  In a year they lose Andre Kirilenko's exorbitant $18 million salary.  Retaining Matthews would still leave them under the (presumed) cap after that.  On the face of it, it's not a back-breaking deal.

On the other hand, is Matthews really starting shooting guard material?  Utah has around $43 million locked up in their three most expensive players next year.  That drops to $35 million the following year once Kirilenko is gone.  They can afford to make a mistake maybe, but only one.  They don't want a reserve guard suitable for 20 minutes per game costing them as much as Paul Millsap does, which is pretty much what Matthews would be making.  Not only does it clog the cap, it makes extending Millsap himself much more expensive.  (Never mind what that contract is going to do to Portland's salary structure with Matthews as a reserve.)  Warriors guard Anthony Morrow, whose game is flawed but who until this off-season received far more attention than Matthews, just signed a 3-year, $12 million (total) offer sheet with the Nets.  If that's the going rate, Matthews is at a severe premium.  If he's going to turn out like another defensively-minded guard the Blazers tended an offer sheet to--Trenton Hassell, who made bank and was never the same player again--the Jazz have to make Portland bear that cost.  This contract may be so out of whack with Matthews' potential and production, a view espoused by this Salt Lake City Tribune writer, that Utah may decline on principle, figuring they could find four guys to audition to be the next Wesley Matthews for a cheaper price.

The Jazz can afford this deal but sticker shock alone is going to cause them to take a long, hard look at Mr. Matthews and decide whether they're ready to be married to him for the next couple of years.  For better or worse the Blazer brass have decided that this is their guy.  They have to hope the Jazz don't reach the same conclusion, either because Portland is right about his potential and Utah is wrong or because Portland deems him perfect as a reserve while Utah can't commit to him as a starter.  Either way, the bet is sizable here for both teams.  Utah can't be feeling comfortable right now.

A couple of people have asked whether the Blazers might have made this offer specifically to mess with the Jazz.  If so, they're playing a crazy-stupid game of chicken.  I cannot imagine that they raised the offer artificially thinking Utah would match.  I have to assume that if Matthews becomes a Blazer the Portland hierarchy will be slapping high fives because they really do like him that much.  If they don't value Matthews enough to celebrate that contract they're world-class dolts because even succeeding in a scheme like that brings marginal pain to just 1 of 29 opponents...not anywhere worth the risk.

Do you think the Jazz match?  See what they think over at SLCDunk.  (Please be nice.)

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)