Last week, Dave discussed Portland's options with free agents Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews. In light of the recent "Wesley Matthews Media Tour", including appearances on NBA TV, NBA After Dark, and Jimmy Kimmel Live, it's time to look at the other side of the coin. Where might Wesley Matthews be headed in free agency?
The first option would simply be to stay with the Portland Trail Blazers. Matthews has flourished in coach Terry Stotts' offense as a 3 point assassin, while providing solid defense on the perimeter and leadership in the locker room. He has added to his game every year, and is a true fan favorite. After Matthews went down on March 5th, how many times did we hear the phrase "heart and soul of this team"?
The initial thought is that other teams would be scared off by his injury, and that he was a shoo-in to be a Blazer next year.
Of course, a few things may stand in the way. Matthews was primed for a huge payday before he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Now, post-injury, GM Neil Olshey needs to balance making a respectful contract offer with a certain amount of risk protection, namely by limiting money or years (or at least guaranteed years). While a 4 year/$50 million deal would have been a great deal in February, four guaranteed years now carries substantial risk until Matthews is able to prove that he can still live up to the Iron Man moniker.
With free agency looming just 3 ½ weeks away, there is little that Matthews can do to show that he is coming back at full strength. While Instagram videos of him dribbling and draining 3 pointers ahead of schedule are awesome to see, that probably isn't enough to convince any GM in the league that he's fully recovered and worth a long term guaranteed contract. And we haven't even touched on what an appropriate salary might be.
With Matthews' notorious determination and self-belief, it's possible that he may take exception to a lesser offer. Offering 3 years/25 million with a team option after the second year helps Portland hedge its bets, but to Matthews it might send a clear message: "We don't believe you can fully come back from this".
On the flip-side, if anything is predictable about NBA free agency, it's that teams that whiff on premier free agents tend to overspend on 2nd tier players. Once LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, DeAndre Jordan, etc. ink new deals, the remaining teams with money and cap space will try their hardest to spend it on the next group of impact players. Think Al Jefferson, Brook Lopez, Paul Milsap, Al-Farouq Aminu...and Wesley Matthews.
Nothing that Matthews has said to the media thus far has indicated that he's willing to give the Blazers a hometown discount. Even if he were, there is a chance that Portland would simply let him walk. If LaMarcus Aldridge bolts in free agency, it's possible that the Blazers would decide to "retool" by letting Matthews (and Robin Lopez, their other free agent primed for a raise) walk away. With the emergence of C.J. McCollum and Meyers Leonard, this move makes sense only if Aldridge leaves the team high and dry and any contingency plans arranged by the front office don't fall into place.
So where could he actually go? There are a couple of teams that have been floated as possible landing spots for Matthews, some more realistic than others.
The Boston Celtics are a logical landing spot for Matthews. The team needs more 3 point shooting from their wings, with only Isiah Thomas and Avery Bradley shooting decently from distance. Both Bradley and Marcus Smart are strong defenders, and pairing either one with Matthews for stretches would give the team solid perimeter defense.
The Sacramento Kings are another team rumored to want to kick the tires on Matthews. With Ben McLemore struggling to shoot consistently from the perimeter, the team may look to bring Matthews in and move McLemore to a 6th man role. With DeMarcus Cousins drawing double teams from all angles, Matthews could see a lot of open 3 pointers in Sacramento.
While the Knicks were rumored to be interested in Matthews before his injury, it remains to be seen whether they will be suitors in free agency. The Knicks have the 4th overall pick this year, and are finally emerging from salary cap purgatory. They will want to make a splash, but will likely miss out on many of the top free agents, as a disproportionate amount are power forwards. The Knicks play Carmelo Anthony at the 4, and though they could slide him to small forward, the Knicks would be well advised to shore up the wings in free agency (assuming they don't take Justise Winslow in the draft).
Ultimately, with so many moving parts, speculating where Matthews will end up at this point in the offseason is probably an exercise in futility. So much depends on not only what Aldridge does, first and foremost, but then what the other prime free agents do. If Aldridge bolts and most or all of the other big name free agents stay put, don't be surprised to see Matthews receive an offer that will at least make the Blazers blink.
When asked about the upcoming free agency period during exit interviews, Neil Olshey said, "It's going to be fun". Blazer fans can only hope he's right. But either way, it's definitely going to be interesting.