Life’s not all that easy for undrafted players in the NBA, who typically have to fight and claw just to find a place on a roster. That wasn’t the case for Wesley Matthews, who was fortunate enough to be signed by the Jazz after spending four years playing for Marquette. It didn’t take a trip to the D-League or a tour through Europe for Matthews to stay NBA relevant after failing to be selected in the draft, and for that he should definitely be considered fortunate.
Then, injuries to several of Utah’s wing players opened up playing time and shot attempts for Matthews, who was able to average almost 25 minutes in 48 games. Plus, the cost-conscious Jazz shipped out Ronnie Brewer, who almost certainly would have stolen away Matthews’ minutes, to the Memphis Grizzlies for purely financial reasons. As far as undrafted rookies go, Matthews has received just about every break he could possibly ask for, and he’s made the most of the opportunities he’s been given.
Now the Jazz will have to pay for it.
The perk of being a second round pick or undrafted rookie is that the rookie scale doesn’t apply, meaning that if a player like Matthews can make a decent splash in a season or two, they can reach their first notable payday that much sooner. That should be the case with Wesley this summer, as he proved he’s a capable rotation player with the Jazz this season. There’s no star power here, just a competent defender and low-usage scorer. No one should have to break open the piggy bank to sign Matthews to a new deal, but he’s definitely due for a raise from his sub-$1 million salary this season.
The only question is whether or not he’ll stay with Utah. The system fits well with Matthews’ talents, and it’s clear that Jerry Sloan is a fan. That said, the Jazz will have a number of decisions to make this off-season regarding a number of free agents, both in-house and elsewhere. From Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune:
The Jazz’s best chance for an impact addition might come with the first-round pick they own from New York. The draft lottery will be held May 18, but if the draft order holds, the Jazz would be left with the No. 9 pick.
…As for their current roster, the Jazz have seven players under contract to return next season in Williams, Okur, Paul Millsap, Andrei Kirilenko, C.J. Miles, Ronnie Price and Kosta Koufos. Those seven players are set to make $56.7 million for the 2010-11 season.
The NBA’s latest projections call for next season’s luxury-tax threshold to be set at $68 million. Assuming they end up with the No. 9 pick, the Jazz’s newest rookie would be expected to make $2.4 million next season.
That would leave the Jazz about $9 million to spend in deciding about re-signing free agents Boozer, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver and Kyrylo Fesenko without pushing their payroll into luxury-tax territory for the second consecutive season.
Let’s assume that Boozer has his bags packed and sits anxiously on the curb waiting for his taxi. As Siler noted, $9 million will be the magic number for the Jazz this off-season, and they’ll have to divide that salary up amongst Matthews, Korver, Fesenko, and any other free agents they’re targeting. That’s not much coin to fill Boozer’s void while retaining those players, who were all part of Utah’s rotation at various points in the season.
Fesenko may not be a stud, but he was decent for the Jazz in the playoffs and could provide a cheap insurance policy should Mehmet Okur’s recovery take longer than anticipated. Korver does have some value for Utah, though he definitely qualifies as a specialist and holds limited value aside from his shooting.
Where things should get particularly interesting is in where the Jazz end up in the draft lottery. Should Utah move up thanks to the favorable bounces of a few ping pong balls, that $9 million figure would actually decrease as the set price of their first round pick goes up. That lottery pick’s salary bump could ironically be the factor that pushes Matthews out of the mix. Utah has been trying to dodge the luxury tax like the plague, and should Wesley’s new contract not fit neatly into their salary space under the tax line, he may hit the open market.
The other factor is how confident the Jazz are in Paul Millsap’s ability to replace Carlos Boozer’s production. If Sloan and Kevin O’Connor don’t have complete faith in Millsap, they could look to replace some of Boozer’s scoring and rebounding with another big in free agency. That would leave even less available salary (or maybe none at all) for Korver, Fesenko, and Matthews.
There’s no doom and gloom here; someone is going to sign Wesley Matthews this summer, and maybe it will be Utah. The odds just seem slim that he’ll stay in SLC, and soon Matthews may join Eric Maynor and Ronnie Brewer as the Jazz turned ex-Jazz thanks to Greg Miller and the Miller family’s aversion to the luxury tax.