Wesley Matthews was really hoping to win his first championship with the Lakers this season. Unfortunately for him, the team fell short in its title defense, with any chance they had of repeating destroyed by injuries to their stars. In the end, it left him wistful for what could have been, and hoping the team gets a chance to see what they can do if they’re healthy.
“There is no question in my mind and in my heart that I want to run it back,” Matthews said at his exit interview on Friday.
The Lakers getting to do that isn’t a sure thing. For one thing, Matthews will be an unrestricted free agent, and is 34 years old. He also is coming off of a mostly underwhelming season that saw him in and out of the rotation for a Lakers team with several other guards (Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker and Dennis Schröder) hitting free agency and an incumbent starter (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) at shooting guard.
Now, Matthews closed the season strong, but even he admitted the first part of it could have gone better for him, and he understands why there were points where he wasn’t playing.
“As far as my role and the ups and downs of the season, I don’t take any of it personally. I like to be a straight shooter and call a spade a spade,” Matthews said. “In order to do that, you have to have personal accountability. And I have no problem owning up to that, which was some of the inconsistent play that I had.”
Matthews didn’t want to make excuses for his struggles, either, saying that the whole league was dealing with the same stuff, but he also clearly felt like the abnormal offseason and how it limited who he could train with — due to the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols — played a role in his rough start.
“For me, I do a lot of grinding in the offseason. I work, I work, I work, I work, I work. I come into training camp with a good, established rhythm, and just like everybody, that wasn’t able to be a thing this year,” Matthews said. “Obviously I know and feel that I could play better, but I do know that I brought everything that I had, and I left it on the court every single night and showed flashes of who I can be and who I am in certain situations, and like I said to start this off, there’s no doubt that I want to run it back.”
Matthews said as much to Lakers star LeBron James as the two commiserated in the locker room following the team’s season-ending, Game 6 loss to the Suns on Thursday.
“It was tough. It was absolutely tough,” Matthews said. “I told him first ‘man, I’m hurting. I just wish... I want to run this back so bad.’ ... And he said what he told you guys (about never getting to see this group whole). And it’s true. We all felt that way.”
LeBron James said he was telling Wesley Matthews in the locker room: We never really got an opportunity to see our full team.— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) June 4, 2021
Matthews did say that he was proud, however, of how the team continued to fight, even when they were undermanned at times throughout the year as James and Anthony Davis missed extensive times with injuries. He said the Lakers tried their best to keep their championship hopes alive even as it became clear their odds were dwindling.
“We didn’t let go of the rope. It’s because we had faith that these guys had championship DNA, and that the veterans like myself that were brought in that didn’t win a championship last year had that DNA of being tough-minded, hard-nosed and just going after it, and doing what it takes to win,” Matthews said.
And he also knows that the Lakers aren’t the only on-paper contender to ever wonder how their season could have gone if they hadn’t gotten hurt at the wrong time. He still thinks about the 2014-15 Portland Trail Blazers team he was on that was pegged as a dark horse contender until Matthews tore his Achilles. He says “you always have what-ifs” in sports, but still, it doesn’t make injuries derailing the Lakers any less true.
That’s not an excuse, it’s just reality.
“At the end of the day, injuries, they took us out. But we continued to fight,” Matthews said. “I think that’s just the pedigree, that’s the expectation, that when you throw that Laker uniform on, when you’re a part of this organization, it’s going to be next man up. Obviously it was less than ideal. If we stay healthy all season, who knows? But that definitely will always be something that will be thought about, which is why we want to run it back.”
Only the next few months will tell if this whole roster will get the chance to, but if Matthews is willing to take the veteran’s minimum to chase another ring, the team could do much, much worse while searching for bench guard depth when free agency begins on Aug. 2. He surely won’t be the team’s first priority, but he should at least be on the list.