The jabs and jokes flowed as often as jumpers did for Wesley Matthews during the offseason. They said he had changed. They said he had lost his edge. They said he didn’t have the same fire the same passion the same pent-up Little Man Disease he had when he defied odds and became an NBA starter as a rookie even though he went undrafted out of college. And worst of all the bashing came not from his critics or his competitors but from his friends. “My boys spent the whole summer (ticking) me off” Matthews said smirking as he recalled the abuse. “They kept telling me I wasn’t playing like I did when I first came out of college that I wasn’t fighting like I did when I was in Utah. They kept telling me I changed. I know they didn’t mean it but they kept saying it. And it (ticked) me off.” It doesn’t take much to motivate the Trail Blazers’ starting shooting guard. If Matthews doesn’t enter a season mad at something — or somebody — something’s wrong. As an undrafted rookie he had to fight for a spot on an NBA roster. The next season he had to justify a five-year $34 million free agent contract with the Blazers. Then he had to prove he was a starter. It’s never-ending. And now as he enters his fifth NBA season as an established veteran leader Matthews doesn’t have to dig very deep for his newest layer of inspiration. • • • It all started a short drive outside Madison Wis. on a 5-acre plot of land Matthews calls home. He built what he sheepishly calls a “colossal” house on that sprawling plot of land and it’s an NBA player’s dream featuring not only a workout facility but also a full basketball court — complete with two hoops and regulation NBA three-point lines. The house was finished less than a year ago and Matthews spent most of last summer there training for the 2013-14 season. Every now and then he’d invite his friends for a visit — many of them play professional basketball overseas — and they would descend to and join him for workouts and pickup games. It was during one of these games when the taunts started. “We were playing pickup and stuff against each other and I missed a shot and just walked it off” Matthews said. “They were like ‘The old you wouldn’t have walked that shot off. The old you would have thrown the ball into the wall or something.’ ” Matthews who is prone to dish out his fair share of trash talk laughed it off. But his friends knew they were on to something so they persisted. Even after they left Matthews’ house they continued piling it on with text messages and emails and phone calls. One day a friend texted Matthews out of the blue: “You see what they ranked you on (NBA) 2K14?” Matthews said referring to the popular NBA video game. “I was like ‘No what did they rank me?’ He said ‘Man they have you at 78.’ ” Matthews chuckled. But he wouldn’t laugh for long. Another message from another friend set his skin on fire. ESPN had released its top-to-bottom rankings of NBA players and slotted Matthews 130th behind players such as JJ Hickson (127) Lou Williams (120) and — gasp — Raymond Felton (108). “When they showed me the ESPN rankings that (stuff) really (ticked) me off” Matthews said. “My friends already got me excited coming into the season with their stuff. I was already ready to get back to having that extreme hunger like famine like the you-haven’t-eaten-in-weeks hunger. But when the ESPN rankings came out? That was crazy. That’s just disrespectful. But you know what whatever. I’ve never been given the benefit of the doubt yet so why should it start now?” • • • Besides when it comes down to it the taunts of friends and the slights of video game makers and rankings creators pale in comparison to what Matthews puts himself through. His inner drive is enough. Matthews entered the 2012-13 season pledging to expand his game beyond the hustling three-point shooting and sturdy defense he was known for. With a new coach and a new system Matthews was ready to take on new responsibilities and he was eager to become a player who could facilitate and create out of pick-and-roll sets run in transition and score with midrange jumpers and driving layups in addition to three-pointers. And for a long stretch Matthews was backing up his pledge and enjoying a career season in coach Terry Stotts’ “flow” offense. But then he heard a pop in his left hip during a game on Dec. 8 and his season would never be the same. He sat out the first game of his NBA career two nights later — ending a streak of 250 consecutive games played — and would miss 12 more as hip ankle and elbow injuries stalled his ascent. Healthy and hopeful Matthews enters this season with the same don’t-shoehorn-me mindset he did last season. After all the injuries he decided to allow himself extra rest and recuperation over the summer and he refocused his offseason training. Instead of adding bulk and build he focused on his core and creating better body balance. He also shifted his mindset. It would be impossible for Matthews to completely ditch his go-all-out temperament but he said he will be “smarter” in the way he plays the way he trains and the way he flails his body around the court.
Wesley Matthews: 'Never changed. Just the new version of the old me'
Oregonian | Oct 16