Maybe the most intriguing free agency saga of the summer will be Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Wesley Matthews. He was due for a huge payday as one of the most solid three-and-D guys in the league, until March 5, when he suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in a game against the Mavericks. Since then, his free agency prospects have been cast into doubt. How many teams would pay him the kind of money he was set to earn before the injury, not knowing how healthy he would be? Would he be better off signing a short-term deal to prove he can stay healthy and then try free agency again after that?
The latest word out of Matthews’ camp is that not only does he expect to be ready to go for training camp, but he’s not interested in taking a discount of any kind.
From USA Today‘s Sam Amick:
According to a person with knowledge of Matthews’ situation, he is seeking a multi-year deal that pays approximately $15 million annually. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of such discussions.
Matthews has already returned to basketball activities, and he is expected to be fully healthy and ready to play at the start of the regular season. He is on track to be active once training camps begin in October, but is likely to ease his way into the preseason. Matthews, a strong defender who averaged a career-high 16.4 points per game two seasons ago and 15.9 points per game in the 2014-15, has been playing at an All-Star caliber level for quite some time now and is confident that he’ll return to that level next season.
There’s a lot to unpack here. Even if Matthews has already returned to basketball activities, he won’t be close to game shape by July 1, so any team giving him that $15 million annual salary would be taking an enormous leap of faith that he’s going to recover fully from one of the worst injuries a professional athlete can have.
And on that note, the idea that Matthews will be fully ready to play by the start of the season, let alone training camp, is ridiculously optimistic. A torn Achilles typically has a six-to-nine-month recovery timetable, and it’s usually on the later end. Kobe Bryant tore his in April of 2013 and didn’t return to the court until December of that year, lasting all of six games before suffering another season-ending leg injury. Brandon Jennings, who is three years younger than Matthews, suffered the same injury in January — almost two months before Matthews — and is also shooting for training camp as a return time. Even if Matthews comes back healthy, there’s going to be an adjustment period to get back to NBA-level game action, if he ever does return to his previous level. An Achilles injury is no joke and it’s no guarantee that Matthews will be the player he was before it.
The pre-injury version of Matthews is absolutely worth $15 million per year in the modern, perimeter-oriented NBA. He’s a great locker-room guy, a dependable outside shooter and a solid defender who will make any team better. This summer, he will find out whether any team is willing to make the gamble that he can get back to that level.