Grade the deal: Mavericks go big with max contract for Wesley Matthews
After the Mavericks' future was shaken by DeAndre Jordan's about-face, Dallas was left with a bittersweet pill. Wesley Matthews, who declined the chance to walk back his agreement according to Mark Cuban, was still in the fold. Matthews would become a Maverick and, with Jordan out of the picture, the team's centerpiece addition this summer. Yet rather than come to Dallas on the four-year, $57 million deal that had been contingent on Jordan's signing, Matthews—ruptured Achilles' tendon and all—was given a four-year, $70 million max deal, per NBA.com.
That is a shocking figure. In the whole of the NBA precedent, an Achilles' tear has generally come with devastating, career-altering implications. Something in Matthews's circumstances—be it his age (28), his work ethic, or confidence in the team's heralded training staff—clearly assuaged the Mavs' concerns. This is an awful lot of money to commit to a player with his true on-court form unseen. That Dallas did so speaks to its peculiar situation and how much Matthews could potentially offer them when he's healthy.
Matthews and the Mavs reaching the unlikely contract figure might also have something to do with the woebegone Kings. Sacramento moved heaven and earth, prospects and draft picks to create the cap room necessary to sign Matthews. It was all in vain. Matthews declined a four-year, $64 million deal with Sacramento—while undoubtedly using its offer as leverage—to instead work out a deal with Dallas on flexible terms. He and his agent played the game to perfection. Had Jordan kept his word, Matthews would have rehabbed his way back to join a Mavs team better than the Kings. Without Jordan to account for, Matthews instead signs the richest possible deal he could sign outside Portland.
It should be noted that the fate of the Blazers was radically altered by Matthews' torn Achilles. Three months ago, the Blazers were a championship contender thriving in continuity. Matthews's season-ending injury threw the team off balance and set into motion Portland's prompt playoff exit. Soon after, Nicolas Batum was traded, Matthews and Robin Lopez fled for new teams, and LaMarcus Aldridge cleared a path to San Antonio. A single moment of pain and anguish—in a game against the Mavericks, coincidentally—brought about the Blazers' dissolution.
It also helped bring to Dallas a player who, when at his best, makes for a perfect complement. Matthews tied Kyle Korver last season for third in the league in three-point makes per game and shot 39.3% from beyond the arc over the course of his career. This is in part because Matthews helps to create so many open jumpers; rather than park himself out on the perimeter and await a pass, Matthews strafes the line to line up an optimal kick-out angle. His shooting form is so simple and fluid that it escapes most defensive close-outs, though Matthews is also skilled enough off the dribble to initiate the next stage of the offense should his defender close the gap in time.
With that, Dallas is now set with two starting wings who in theory will help to keep the offense well-spaced and moving briskly. Matthews is a committed passer who, unlike the outgoing Monta Ellis, makes quick decisions when the ball comes his way. If the shot is there, it's taken. If a better one might be available, Matthews moves on and makes a cut or sets a screen. His offensive game is sharp for its simplicity; he makes the most of advantageous matchups and opportunities without detracting from his team's natural order.
That he also happens to be an ultra-competitive wing defender makes him a nice fit alongside Chandler Parsons. Ideally, Matthews might be a second-option perimeter stopper a la San Antonio's Danny Green. Yet he's still very much qualified for a leading defensive role assuming his Achilles' injury doesn't sap him of his lateral quickness.
There's reason to doubt it will return.
One can appreciate the player Matthews was last season while grasping what this kind of injury has meant in the NBA's collective medical history. His future as a player, ultimately, is more of an open question than this considerable contract would suggest. Matthews should be able to maintain his perimeter shooting (which doesn't rely on much of a jump), his post game and his high motor after making his return. Whether he'll be exactly as quick on his feet as before cannot possibly be known at this stage.
Hence the harrowing, implicit risk in signing Matthews to a four-year max. Any lingering doubt comes not in question of whether he's earned it or how he might fit with whatever roster Dallas ends up fielding. Matthews is simply an unknown quantity until he has a chance to prove otherwise. For reasons beyond his control, he might never again be as effective as he was last season.
Those probabilities could be characterized differently when Jordan was set to sign and Matthews was lined up to make $57 million rather than $70 million. Matthews, in anything but disastrous form, would have been a step toward something. That he agreed to join on variable terms was crucial in getting Jordan's initial commitment and seemed to give Dallas a bright future. Instead, the very cost of acquiring him even robs his silver-lining signing of some of its luster. A full-speed Matthews is still a great get. To expect that without complication, however, would be oblivious to what his injury has meant to those NBA players who suffered it.