Is Wesley Matthews Worth $15 Million A Year?

Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports /

Wesley Matthews’ 2014-15 season with the Portland Trailblazers ended on  March 5th when the starting shooting guard caught the ball on the right wing, and before even taking a single dribble, collapsed in pain. Immediately, speculation surrounding Matthews offseason contract status began to swirl. How much would teams be willing to risk on a 28-year-old coming off one of the worst injuries an athlete can sustain?

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Sam Amick at USA Today Sports reports that Wesley Matthews expects teams to risk about $15 million a year for multiple years. $15 million is a huge chunk of change, but front offices and fans alike have to step back and put the number in perspective in order to decide if he’s worth the price.

$15 million a year isn’t a random number that Matthews’ camp pulled out of thin air, this is a very calculated sum that speaks volumes about how the 6’ 5” guard views himself. With max players being eligible for contracts equal to roughly 30 percent of a team’s salary cap space, veterans on max deals will make around $20 million next season. By asking for $15 million Wes is essentially valuing himself at 75 percent of the max.

Interestingly, another prominent role player valued himself exactly the same way back in the summer of 2013 when he signed a four-year, $48 million contract which happened to be 73 percent of a max deal at the time. What was his name? Andre Iguodala.

Which begs the question, does Matthews fit into the Iguodala mold? Does he produce 75 percent of what guys like John Wall, Russell Westbrook, or Dwyane Wade? Certainly before the Achilles injury he did. Just look at his 2014-2015 Per 36 minutes in comparison with some of those guys.

Andre Iguodala317720694.08.6.4663.7.3494.9.5532.0.5960.
Wesley Matthews286020246.013.4.4487.9.3895.5.5342.6.7520.
Dwyane Wade336219719.319.8.4701.9.28417.9.4896.8.7681.
John Wall247928376.614.8.4452.8.30012.0.4784.6.7850.54.24.610.
Russell Westbrook266723029.823.0.4264.5.29918.5.45710.2.8351.

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 6/24/2015.

You can see that Matthews overall production, while not as well-rounded and complete as his All-Star peers, is just as elite as second tier players like Iguodala. Teams are increasingly willing to pay a premium for players who can defend multiple positions and space the floor with three-point shooting, both of which are Matthews’ specialty.

Another free agent with similar abilities that should be a hot commodity come July is Danny Green. Green is a year younger than Matthews and has a clean bill of health making him a more likely target for teams in need of a versatile 3-and-D guy at the shooting guard position. Once Green has been signed however, high-caliber, two-way players are few and far between. This issue is part of what led to Gordon Hayward receiving a four-year, $67 million dollar offer sheet from Charlotte as a restricted free agent last summer while only averaging 16-5-5 over 36 minutes of play. There just aren’t that many wing players who can carry a significant offensive load and make an impact on defense.

Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s obvious that if Matthews can get back to near pre-injury form, he’s worth the money he’s asking. But what if he doesn’t? As detailed by Chris Towers of CBS Sports, history does not favor those trying to come back from an Achilles injury.  Most see a dip in the number of minutes they are able to play as well as a hit to their field goal percentages and in today’s league even losing half a step can be the difference between being able to stay in front of your defensive assignment and staring at a name on a jersey as that assignment blows past you. So will teams risk $15 million a year on a Wes Matthews who’s only 80 percent whole?

They should.

If the worst case scenario becomes a reality and Wes really is never going to be the same again, $15 million is a painful price tag in 2015-16. However, with the cap set to spike to $89 million in 2016-2017 and then to $108+ million after that, Matthews salary begins to be quite tolerable and like a down right bargain if he can begin to sniff his pre-injury production.

The reality is that Wes Matthews possesses a coveted NBA skillset that is scarce. And while rumors of being able to get Ironman at a “discount” abound, a market flush with cash and the possibility that Matthews will return to peak performance all but ensures that someone will pay his $15 million price tag. Because when only one team out of 30 can win the championship, franchises have to take risks in order to reap the reward of hoisting the trophy in June.

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