Wesley Matthews Blazing Own Trail in NBA
Pam Moore, who raised Matthews in Madison, Wis., as a single parent, always has believed her son is special. She long thought Matthews, undrafted out of Marquette in 2009, deserved a spot in the NBA.
But with the second-year Portland guard having averaged 18.3 points over his past 16 games, including a pair of 30-point efforts, even Moore at times has done a double take.
"With the work that Wesley puts in, I know he's on a mission,'' said Moore, a former star athlete who was featured in a FanHouse story last March about how she primarily taught basketball to Matthews and not his father, former NBA point guard Wes Matthews. "He's determined to be the best. But I have to admit I've been surprised a bit. I have to admit I dropped my jaw a couple of times when he had that 36-point game (Jan. 7 at Minnesota). What he's been able to do in the NBA in a short period of time, I have to just say, 'Wow.' It's more than I ever thought.''
Obviously, plenty of NBA folks are surprised as well. There were 60 players taken in the 2009 draft, with none named Matthews.
The 6-foot-5 Matthews stunned many as a Utah rookie last season when he averaged 9.4 points while starting 48 games. But that still wasn't good enough for the Jazz to match a five-year, $33 million offer sheet the Trail Blazers put down on Matthews last summer as a restricted free agent.
"I was definitely disappointed, of course,'' star Jazz point guard Deron Williams said of losing his backcourt mate. "I pretty much knew once Portland offered that much money that we probably weren't going to match. I had to come to that realization. I wish we would have (matched).''
The desire of small-market Utah to shave its massive payroll in recent years has been well documented. But Jazz officials have been mum when it comes to whether they have any regrets in letting Matthews walk for nothing.
General manager Kevin O'Connor declined comment on Matthews. Longtime Utah coach Jerry Sloan said the power of the purse is beyond his control.
"We've always worked under their parameters,'' Sloan said of Jazz officials. "When a guy like that is in a situation to earn that (kind of salary), I say, 'The more power to you. You don't owe me anything.'''
The Trail Blazers have had plenty of misfortune lately due to injuries, namely to center Greg Oden and star guard Brandon Roy. But they certainly can't complain about what Matthews has done in helping make up for the scoring of Roy, a career 20-point scorer who hasn't played since Dec. 15 because of knee trouble.
For the season, Matthews is averaging 16.3 points, shooting 39 percent from 3-point range and playing solid defense. Matthews admits not many believed he would take a jump like this in his second season.
"Probably not,'' said Matthews, who made the minimum of $427,163 as a rookie. "Portland didn't. No one knew. I don't think anybody knew. Nobody was in the gym with me in the summer time with me and my trainer. They had to go by me saying I'd be better.''
Indeed Matthews said that.
"I'm going to show (the Trail Blazers) that I'm worth the money,'' Matthews, speaking first to FanHouse, said last summer after the Jazz didn't match the offer sheet.
Matthews has earned a spot on the sophomore team for the Feb. 18 Rookie Challenge during All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. Let's just say that's not a typical place to find undrafted players.
"Only God can write a story like this,'' Matthews, 24, said of his quick NBA ascension. "This is a blessing to be able to play this game for a living and to be recognized as one of the top up-and-coming players in this league. It's tremendous. I don't have words for it.''
Well, those weren't such bad words.
Next for Matthews is to try to become an undrafted player to make the All-Star Game. Two of the few to have done it are Detroit center Ben Wallace, who has gotten into four All-Star affairs, and former guard John Starks, who made it into the 1994 game with New York.
"A year or two from now, he'll make the All-Star Game,'' said Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko. "He could do that. He's got everything that it takes and he loves to play defense. There aren't a lot of people in this league who like to play defense. ... He's a great player.''
Williams said he really was impressed with how Matthews "never backed down'' while guarding stars Kobe Bryant of the Lakers and Carmelo Anthony of Denver in the playoffs last spring. Williams said "not too many rookies'' get better in the postseason, something Matthews did when he also averaged 13.2 points in Utah's 10 playoff games.
Still, it wasn't enough for the Jazz to match the offer sheet. Instead, Utah signed free agent Raja Bell, whose $3 million salary this season is barely half of the $5.765 million Matthews is pulling down, to take over as the starting shooting guard. Bell, 10 years older than Matthews at 34, is averaging 8.4 points.
"We thought we were getting a good player, and he's playing good basketball,'' Portland coach Nate McMillan said of Matthews. "He's a warrior.''
Matthews moved into the starting lineup regularly at small forward in late November. After Roy was lost indefinitely just over two weeks later, Matthews replaced him at shooting guard while Nicolas Batum returned to his previous spot at small forward.
Making up for the scoring lost from Roy, Matthews has had six games of 25 or more points since Christmas. In addition to the outburst at Minnesota, he also scored 30 on Dec. 30 against the Jazz and 31 last Saturday at Cleveland.
"It's just exciting. ... It's new for all of us,'' Matthews said about how taking another huge step in the NBA has impacted him and his mother.
After Matthews signed his big deal last summer, Moore, 51, quit her job after 23 years as an insurance underwriter. Moore, a former basketball and track stalwart at the University of Wisconsin, now serves as Matthews' business manager and has attended about 20 of his games this season.
Matthews and his mother are extremely tight. Matthews has a tattoo on his left bicep that reads the "Dynamic Duo'' and is adorned with the "WM'' and "PM'' initials of the two.
With his newfound riches, Matthews bought his mother a house in Madison and gave her a 2010 Mercedes 550. Matthews, meanwhile, drives a 2010 Audi R8, which sells for more than $100,000, and also owns a 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT truck, which he bought used as a rookie.
"I manage his affairs and his finances,'' Moore said. "He's not a big jewelry guy. I think he could get a car fetish. But he's kept that at a respectable level now.''
Of course, the more 30-point games Matthews might surprise his mother with, he might need to have the look of a big-time NBA scorer while tooling about town.