It's probably too soon. It's probably overkill from what's already been posted. But I still want to make it known:
If the Jazz fancy themselves building a team for a championship run they need to keep Wesley Matthews.
I'm not talking about chasing a championship next season. I don't think many of us expect that, barring some crazy stuff happening with the trade exceptions. But I am talking about building a team that is a legit contender sometime between 2012 and 2016.
You see there are certain things a championship chasing team needs. Certain things that it can't do without:
1) A really freaking good player. A top-10 type player. This guy needs to be willing to play team-ball, take over when needed, lead the team, care about winning more than his own stats, etc. But above all else, he has to be really, freaking good.
Here's some from the last 30 years of champs: Kareem, Bird, Moses, Magic, Isiah, Michael, Hakeem, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, Wade, Garnett. Now here are some of the runners up: Dr. J, Moses, Bird, Magic, Kareem, Hakeem, Drexler, Barkley, Ewing, Shaq, Payton, the Mailman, LeBron, Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Garnett, AI, Reggie Miller, Jason Kidd
2) The sidekick(s). Usually 1 or 2 guys. These are All-Star caliber players—sometimes even better. Often players crummy teams would consider paying a maximum salary to, even though they probably can't carry a team by themselves.
3) The dirt y work guys. These are the role players whose play turns a good team into a great one, even though nobody even mentions them at first. These guys drift out of the limelight even though they are really good and their contributions matter as much as those of the star and the sidekicks.
The mistake we all make is thinking that #1 is the most important, #2 is next important, and #3 is least important. Or that #1 is a hundred times harder to find than a #3 guy. Or that the #2 is harder than a #3. Or, worst of all, that #3 guys are pretty much interchangeable.
Here's the truth: You will not win a championship unless you have the right guys in all 3 spots. It will never happen. It has never happened. And it has to be the right guys. You cannot substitute Pau for Boozer and expect the Lakers to be as good. And you can't just plug in random guys in the #3 spot and expect it to work (this is the mistake I have the feeling Miami is going to make).
#3 guys save seasons. Celtics never make the '87 finals without Dennis Johnson. They never destroy the world in '86 without Bill Walton. Late 80's Lakers have no shot at their titles without Michael Cooper making covering for Magic's atrocious defense. Pistons never win back-to-back without Rodman guarding the opponent's best player (from SG to PF). Bulls never win in '93 without Paxson hitting the big shots and defending KJ. MJ's Bulls never beat the Jazz without Rodman getting under Karl Malone's skin. Duncan, Shaq, and Kobe each have two fewer rings without Big Shot Bog bailing them out. Boston's latest Big Three never win without House and Posey.
And you can't just randomly substitute these #3 guys either. You can't switch Paxson with Bimbo Coles. You can't replace Rodman with LaPhonso Ellis. You can't switch Big Shot Bob with Joe Smith. It has to be the right guy. And the truth is sometimes these guys are the hardest to find—because their stats and paychecks blend in with about 200 other dudes in the NBA. Nobody would ever look at Robert Horry's lifetime stats and lifetime paychecks and realize "here's a guy who will single-handedly swing 4-6 NBA championships." You'd think that trading Horry for Shawn Marion would be a steal. And you'd be dead wrong.
The Jazz had something special in Wesley Matthews last year. As a rookie he was cited by the team as its best defender. Remember all those shooting guards who lit up the Jazz for 40 and 50 points a couple years ago? Kobe time and time again? Wade? Gilbert Arenas? Linus freaking Kleiza? Remember when Bill Simmons joked that every shooting guard in the NBA had circled the games against Utah? And remember how awful it was to know it was true?
Well last season the most any shooting guard scored against the Jazz was 34 points. Vince Carter. He shot 39% and the Jazz won. In 3 regular season games, Kobe had 1 decent game. He shot under 30% in the other two. I looked at the box scores of every single game, and there are more SG's scoring in the teens than in the 20's. And only a handful (about 5) in the 30's. That wasn't the case 2 years ago.
Remember back in November when the only thing that made watching Jazz games worthwhile was seeing Wesley Matthews? Remember the big three's that inspired the O My Sweet Wesley acronym?
And he was a freaking rookie!
You can't just replace this with some random swingman. He hit 3's, he could cut, he played tough, he played great man-to-man defense. I've mentioned it before, but it's worth mentioning again. He pushed Melo and Kobe into awful, awful shots—shots where they were completely off balance and had no outlet pass available. Yeah, they hit the shots. But that kind of defense against shooting guards and some small forwards (often the team's best scorers), over the course of a season, can be 5-10 wins. That's the difference between a #1 seed and a #8 seed.
You can't just replace this kind of play with a random dude. I know it was just 10 PPG. I know it was just a couple rebounds per game. I know you can point out to a lot of guys who could do particular things better (KK is a better shooter, Ronnie B. got more steals, so-and-so would get more rebounds). But you know what, basketball is more than just the stats.
Wesley has the attitude and skills and heart to be an all-time #3 kind of guy. A Big Shot Bob. A James Posey. A Derek Fisher. A Dennis Rodman (without the weirdness). And you absolutely cannot win a championship without the right kind of guy as your #3.
Two years ago the Celtics won the championship because when Ray Allen went cold Posey and House could bail the team out. This year the Celtics had Nate Robinson (who had better stats, incidentally). And the Celtics lost a championship they should have won.
The right #3 guy makes all the difference in the world.
And letting go of the right #3 is just as crazy as letting go of the right #2, and sometimes as bad as letting go of the #1. Because it's easy to see who the right #1's are. It's easy to see Deron has it. It's easy to look at Pau or Bosh or Ray Allen and say, "he can't be The Man, but put him with the right #1 and that team will dominate." It's sometimes harder to find the right #3. So when you find him, you keep him. As long as you are trying to build a championship team.
The Jazz have a #1. And Deron's still getting better. They're looking for the right #2. This season will be, in part, an experiment to discover if Paul Millsap can the right kind of #2. Or if AK back in a leading role can be. They're also going to see if Hayward and CJ can be dependable #3's. But if they let Wesley go, they'll be letting go of a #3 most teams would desperately want. So desperately that Portland is willing to pay him $34 million to backup Brandon Roy for 12 min/game.