LAS VEGAS – This became his proving ground of a different kind soon after the regular season, before the ugly images had a chance to fade. The Trail Blazers had a “debacle” of a 2011-12, an opinion that in Portland is accepted more as a fact, prospects would be a big part of the recovery, and so Wesley Matthews decided he would play in summer league at nearly 26 years old and with 230 games of real NBA experience.
Matthews was so insistent on being here that he stayed after he finished playing, as was the case Tuesday night on the bench inside Cox Pavilion as the Trail Blazers lost to the Rockets 99-89, a game halted with 42.9 seconds remaining after Portland guard Nolan Smith suffered a head or neck injury. Matthews’ statistical impact for summer league was seven points in 15 minutes Sunday against the Hornets, the one and likely only appearance. But the plan is for his real impact to be much more and impossible to measure.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys, and the season didn’t finish the way we wanted to,” Matthews said. “We didn’t make the playoffs. A debacle of a year, and I’m vowing never to have that again. I’m just trying to be a leader and play basketball. I was going to play basketball anyway, so I might as well do it with my team.”
Several Blazers here may be in the rotation in the regular season, if not the starting lineup: returnees Luke Babbit and Nolan Smith, rookies Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard and Will Barton.
“He’s a gym rat, so he wants to be out here as much as he can,” said Kaleb Canales, who finished the regular season as interim coach and is running the bench here as the search for a permanent coach continues. “And he knew what it would do to our team dynamics. We had a mutual conversation, but he’s the one that wanted to be out here.
“We talked to Wes about it at the end of the year in our meeting about his leadership, some about his leadership vocally and leadership by actions. And I think his actions are speaking many words right now about him coming out and having training camp with us and wanting to play here with the young guys, developing that chemistry that we’re going to need going forward.”