SALT LAKE CITY — Wesley Matthews, two questions into an interview with the assembled media in the Utah Jazz locker room at EnergySolutions Arena on Tuesday, was summoned to do one last task as an NBA rookie.
"I gotta go pick up the damn burgers," said Matthews, halting the interview for the time being.
Matthews and fellow first-year players Sundiata Gaines and Othyus Jeffers were dispatched to go get and pay for a Crown Burger feast for all of the Jazz players. It's been a tradition for years for the rookies to buy lunch during locker cleanout for the others to enjoy while waiting for their individual meetings with coach Jerry Sloan and general manager Kevin O'Connor.
Matthews, who started 48 games during the regular season and all 10 in the playoffs for the Jazz, hardly seemed like a rookie by the end of the season. He averaged 13.2 points per game during the playoffs and was counted on to try to defend the likes of Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.
Next season Matthews won't be paid like a rookie either.
Undrafted out of Marquette University, Matthews was a long-shot to even make the Jazz roster. When he solidified a spot on the team, he was paid the league minimum of $457,588. Now he will soon become a restricted free agent — meaning the Jazz have the right to match any offer he receives from any other team.
That means Matthews should get a nice, fat raise regardless of where he plays next season.
But the Jazz don't appear to be willing to let him go.
"(Matthews) has just been a bulldog," Sloan said Tuesday. "He's been willing to work and to do extra stuff to make himself better. On the rating sheet for our defense, he was one of the top guys all year long. … He's been fun to coach."
Matthews doesn't know exactly what to expect this offseason, but he appreciates the chance the Jazz took on him and the experience he was able to gain this season.
"I like to be loyal to the people that have done right by me," said Matthews. "(The Jazz) passed on me once — as did everybody else (in the draft). But they didn't make the same mistake twice. I still have to make the best decision for me and my family, and hopefully everything works out smoothly."
Matthews said he plans on being "a gym rat" during the offseason in order to become even better entering his second NBA campaign.
"I just want to be more of a threat offensively," said Matthews. "I'm still going to bring the same effort on the defensive end. I'm still going to run the floor. (I want to) get stronger and do everything."
Young center Kyrylo Fesenko, who started in the postseason in the place of the injured Mehmet Okur, is also a restricted free agent. Like Matthews, he is free to sign with any other NBA team, but the Jazz can match any offer to retain him if they so choose.
But while it appears likely the Jazz would match any offer given to Matthews, that may or may not be the case with Fesenko.
"You know, that will be a decision to make," O'Connor said when asked if the Jazz can afford to put more time and money into Fesenko's development. "But if you're going to be patient, be patient on 7-1 guys."
The uncertainty of not having a contract has Fesenko "scared," he said. "I don't know what is going to happen."
His first choice, however, would be to stay in Utah.
"Of course, I would rather be here," Fesenko said. "I know everything. I know where to eat. Fans love me."
Fesenko is still only 23 years old, and at 7-1 and 300 pounds, he certainly has a big enough body to be intriguing to teams who may have time to work with him as a project.
"Fes is a guy who can get better — if he works at it," said Sloan. "We can't make him do the work. He's got to learn how to work harder."
For his part, Fesenko feels he did well this year personally.
"That was really a turnaround season, like I said it would be in the preseason," Fesenko said. "I was able to finally get (playing) time, and we'll see what happens from there."
His short-term plan for now is to travel to California in the next few days to meet with his new agent, Dan Fegan, and then go from there.
Fesenko says he plans on working on his free throw shooting and conditioning this summer so that he'll be ready to go — wherever he winds up next fall.
Contributing: Tim Buckley
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