During the past five years, Wesley Matthews established a solid foundation with the Portland Trail Blazers.
He worked hard, dove for loose balls, was solid in the community, and was one of the fan’s favorite players. So when Matthews’ new team, the Dallas Mavericks, squares off against the Blazers at 9 p.m. Tuesday in his return to Portland, he all but guarantees that he’ll receive a warm reception from the fans at the Moda Center.
“I don’t see why not,” Matthews said after Monday’s practice. “I’ve given the [Blazers] fans everything that I had every single night and I feel like they gave that back to me.
“I’m excited to go there, to play there, to be on the court, to be standing. My last memory there is on my back.”
That ugly memory, ironically, came when Matthews and the Blazers were playing the Mavs on March 4. In the second half of that game, Matthews lay sprawled on the court after tearing his left Achilles tendon.
Subsequent surgery occurred on March 11, and Matthews eventually signed a four-year, $70 million contract with the Mavs on July 9 after he became a free agent.
Matthews would rather have continued his career with the Blazers. But when perennial All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge was about to leave Portland for San Antonio via free agency in July, Blazers management didn’t make a strong sales pitch to retain Matthews.
“I’m still upset that everything that I’ve done, individually, everything that I’ve done as a player didn’t warrant me being having a separate conversation not tied to LaMarcus Aldridge,” Matthews said. “LA is my boy — everything.
“But I still feel like I did enough myself as a player to warrant a conversation or a, ‘We’re going to go in this direction.’ ”
Matthews isn’t sure if he even wanted to remain with the Blazers without Aldridge.
“A lot of things would have changed and been different had there actually been a conversation,” he said. “But I can’t say that I would and I can’t say that I wouldn’t. But that’s neither here nor there right now.”
Matthews was an undrafted rookie free agent who played one season in Utah before the Blazers signed him to a free-agent offer sheet in 2010 that the Jazz didn’t match. In Portland, Matthews became a quality 3-point shooter and lock-down defender.
He also grew overall as a basketball player and a man.
“Some of those times when I felt I should have been in positions that I wasn’t in, I had to learn how to really play basketball there [in Portland],” Matthews said. “So much of my time in Utah was just energy and excitement and everything being new and just knowing nothing.
“In Portland I had to come off the bench behind [Brandon] Roy, and then I was thrown into the starting lineup. And then Roy went out and then I was actually looked to be the second guy after LaMarcus.”
With so many players already as fan favorites in Portland, Matthews had to do whatever was necessary to carve out his own niche with the Blazers’ fans.
“I was always appreciative of them and I know it probably took them a little bit to warm up to me,” Matthews said. “Here I am this undrafted rookie free agent that just signed for $32.5-$35 million, coming in and [Brandon] Roy is there, Greg Oden is there, LaMarcus is there, Nick [Batum] is there, Andre Miller is there, [Marcus] Camby.
“So many fan favorites are there, and who am I? I think I won them over just by every single game leaving everything I had out there.”
Mavs forward Chandler Parsons left everything he had on the court during his three seasons with the Houston Rockets. But on his first visit — and subsequent visits — to Houston when the Mavs played the Rockets, Parsons was booed every time he touched the ball.
Parsons, who signed a free-agent contract with the Mavs in the summer of 2014, doesn’t see that type of wretched reception awaiting Matthews on his first visit to Portland.
“I don’t think he’ll get booed,” Parsons said. “He was a free agent and they had a chance to pay him just like we did.
“He played great for them and was a fan favorite when he was there, so I don’t see him getting a bad reception. I just think they should cheer him and I think they appreciate his time there and how hard he played and what he accomplished when he was there.”
After he converts a 3-point basket, Matthews is known for shooting an imaginary arrow at any apple toward his team’s bench. He doesn’t plan on doing that in Portland.
“I’m just trying to [show] a little respect to the fans,” Matthews said. “That’s where it originated, so I’m not going to shoot one of them. It doesn’t mean the 3s are not going to be falling, but I’m not going to shoot one at them.”
That undying respect is a two-way street, Matthews said, adding that he has “nothing but love” for the Blazers’ franchise.
“They embraced me, they took a chance on me, and people thought that they were kind of crazy to do so,” Matthews said. “They stuck with me, they grew with me, I grew with them, and I’ve got nothing but love for the franchise and the fans and the city.”