Let’s get weird: Raptors ‘locked in battle’ for Wes Matthews, and why I’m on board

Title: Let’s get weird: Raptors ‘locked in battle’ for Wes Matthews, and why I’m on board
Date: July 1, 2015
Original Source: Raptors Republic
Synopsis: This article pushed for the acquisition of talent over concern for roster fit in response to the Raptors being interested in the seemingly superfluous Wes Matthews.

The Toronto Raptors chase of Wesley Matthews is still on. It wasn’t a bluff to drive down DeMarre Carroll’s price. They didn’t hold a pre-scheduled meeting out of good faith. The Raptors are legitimately in on Matthews as a third wing, for a salary expected to fall in the (admittedly vague) $12-15-million range.

And according to Marc Stein of ESPN, Matthews’ options have narrowed to the Raptors and the Dallas Mavericks, who he says are “locked in battle” for the Portland Trail Blazers unrestricted free agent.

The language of other reports floating around suggests that meetings have already happened, with the Raptors trying to drive down Matthews’ desire for $15 million annually by offering a fourth year. DeMar DeRozan is said to have been involved in pitching Matthews, trying to sell him on an intriguing three-wing lineup that would see DeRozan at the two, Matthews at the three, and the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Carroll at the four.

The Raptors have, by my rough estimate, $9.6 million in cap space if they waive Luke Ridnour and renounce the rights to all of their free agents, including Lou Williams. That’s not enough to get Matthews done, but it may be close enough – Toronto could almost surely find a trade taker for Terrence Ross in a salary dump (we’ve all grown tired, but he’s a young player on a rookie scale deal who can hit threes), and Portland’s weird pseudo-hyper-rebuild could make them amenable to a sign-and-trade.

As for Matthews’ fit…you know what? Let’s get weird. Sure, playing Carroll at the four would leave Toronto susceptible in the post against some match-ups, but he’s a tough defender who’s proven capable of guarding hybrid forwards in the past. And there’s value in having three wings on the floor who can switch assignments and cross-match quickly. Matthews is a plus-defender, DeRozan is roughly average and a smart decision-maker, and Carroll’s quite effective. Those three on the floor together, in Dwane Casey’s aggressive scheme, switching plenty, may not hurt the team on the defensive end much at all. And offensively, it could quickly help turn the Raptors from an isolation-heavy, north-south only offense – albeit an effective one – into a more fluid, team-oriented attack. Matthews and Carroll are both strong outside shooters, Carroll and DeRozan move well without the ball, and both Matthews and Carroll are coming from aesthetically-pleasing (and highly effective) offensive systems.

The addition of Carroll and chase of Matthews signal that the Raptors want to move toward a different, and quite frankly better, style of play, and they’re willing to pay the market premium for players who can shoot and defend.

Matthews does those things, to be clear, and while $15 million may seem a bit of a reach, that’s the market the Raptors are operating in. Like with the Carroll deal, $15 million today will seem like roughly $11 million next season, and if the Raptors can negotiate Matthews down even lower, then great. And it’s worth remembering that DeRozan, while likable and a big part of the recruiting process, will likely opt out to hit unrestricted free agency next summer. Carroll and Matthews making, say, $28 million combined doesn’t seem absurd with the cap spiking, DeRozan potentially leaving, and both players contributing at both ends of the floor.

Since going undrafted out of Marquette in 2009 (shout out to Marquette for consistently producing the toughest dudes in the NBA), Matthews has built himself into a roster player, a quality rotation piece, and now a core piece. He averaged 15.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals this season, knocking down 38.9 percent of his long-range looks, and the Blazers were 5.3 points per-100 possessions better with him on the floor. Advanced stats back up his value, too – he ranked above-average at both ends of the floor by ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus and was eighth among shooting guards in RPM-based Wins Above Replacement.

The biggest concern with Matthews isn’t fit, but the Achilles injury that ended his 2014-15 season. While Matthews is already back in the gym and is known to be an incredibly hard worker – and prior to his injury, one of the league’s true iron men – the recent track record of players returning from an Achilles injury is spotty at best. Matthews is 28 years old and ranks 18th in regular season minutes played since entering the league, so the tread is somewhat low on the tires. On a four-year deal, with a high-character player and one of the most respected sports science teams in the league, that seems to be a risk the Raptors are willing to take.

Now there’s just the matter of beating out the Mavericks and noted super-recruiter Chandler Parsons. The league’s most handsome man is known to be an ace at luring free agents, and if the Mavericks land DeAndre Jordan, Matthews will probably think long and hard about going to Texas, where the taxes are friendly and the organization has a strong track record of doing what it takes to compete. The Sacramento Kings are also said to be chasing Matthews, armed with fresh new cap space and a plan to add either Rajon Rondo or Monta Ellis, plus Matthews, to their Rudy Gay-DeMarcus Cousins core. How you view that threat will depend on how you view a Rondo/Ellis-Matthews-Gay-Cousins core in the West. It’s not bad, but there’s no telling Vivek won’t just blow it up after a 1-2 start.

If Dallas can’t land Jordan, it’s hard to see what could sell Matthews – it’d be Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki, an excellent head coach in Rick Carlisle, and not a whole lot else. With the core in place, and in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors probably stand as a more attractive destination for a player looking to make a run beyond the first round of the playoffs. That’s not to get ahead of myself by any means, but the West is hell, and the Raptors would be much better with Carroll, Matthews, and Delon Wright in the fold.

I understand that the fit is going to weird some people out. It’s committing appreciable resources to multiple wings when the team only has one power forward (plus James Johnson) and one center (plus Bebe) on the roster. Landing a marquee four would have been great, but who’s available? Paul Millsap’s gone. LaMarcus Aldridge probably isn’t coming. Kevin Love is gone. Off the top of my head, there’s Josh Smith, David West, Brandon Bass, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, Thomas Robinson, Darrell Arthur, Kyle O’Quinn. Your mileage is going to vary with a lot of those names, and it’s not a flashy class by any means. I like Arthur and O’Quinn as potentially cheap fliers, Robinson may have some upside, and I think we all still love Boss Davis. But if it’s a choice between Matthews at this price or someone from that grouping and roster filler, I’ll take the higher end talent every time.

It’s worth remembering, too, that there are 48 minutes in a game. Matthews averaged 33.7, Carroll 31.3, and DeRozan 35. If the team wants to better manage the workload of their players, and they should, the funky DeRozan-Matthews-Carroll lineup is one that could be deployed strategically, for small runs, without requiring either player to see a serious minutes cut. Look at the following minutes-allocation scenario (assuming Ross is moved to create room):

PG: Lowry 30, Wright 18
SG: DeRozan 34, Matthews 10, Powell 4
SF: Matthews 22, Carroll 22, Powell 4
PF: Carroll 10, Patterson 25, Johnson 8, Backup PF signing TBD 5
C: Valanciunas 33, Patterson (let’s get weird!) 5, 3rd string signing TBD 10

That’s really, really quick off the top of my head. It’s sloppy and not well-though out, but it’s an illustration that having three wings doesn’t mean Carroll is a full-time power forward by any means. Casey and his staff could play the match-ups, play the flow of the game, and lessen the load on key players so that the entire team doesn’t look exhausted come late March. It’s entirely workable, and the three-wing lineup could be a lot of fun, versatile on defense, and tough to contain in the open court the other way.

The most important thing for Raptors fans to remember, I think, is that talent is what’s most important. The Raptors don’t have their free pick of the free agent market to neatly find square pegs for square holes, and waiting for the opportunity to do so risks winding up with far inferior players. In the modern NBA, where versatility, fluidity, and positional indeterminacy are growing increasingly more valuable, talent is what matters. Smart two-way players, particularly those with amorphous roles and positions, will never be tough to fit into a lineup or a rotation.

Get the talent, figure the rest out later. That’s the strategy the Raptors should be employing, and it seems to be the course Masai Ujiri has set this ship on. Fuck positions, let’s get weird.

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