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Not that he views his career this way, but Matthews has had brutal timing. When he was with the Bucks two seasons ago, the Lakers won it all. When Matthews joined the Lakers last season, they were undone by injuries and lost to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs — while the Bucks won their first championship in 50 years.
“I wanted them to win,” Matthews said. “Phoenix beat us, so I definitely didn’t want them to win, even though I’ve got friends over there. But yeah, I was happy for these guys, I was happy for the city, and I was happy for the state and the organization. Everybody’s good people.”
Matthews, 35, coped with uncertainty at the start of the season, which began without him. He worked out by himself at home and kept in periodic contact with Jon Horst, the Bucks’ general manager, along with a few other teams. Matthews was fairly confident that his career was not finished — not yet, anyway.
“You obviously don’t know anything for certain, but I had a good feeling,” he said. “It was just going to be a test of how badly I wanted it.”
In some ways, he was accustomed to the grind. Back in 2009, he started his N.B.A. career the hard way — by going undrafted. He subsequently signed a nonguaranteed deal with the Utah Jazz, then spent his first couple of months with the team living out of a hotel. He later upgraded to a small apartment with a month-to-month lease. He has since earned more than $100 million over 13 seasons with seven teams.
“He brings that energy, that tenacity, that camaraderie — a little bit of everything,” Connaughton said. “I think the ability to have an impact on the game, without necessarily scoring and without necessarily doing it with statistics, is super impressive. It’s something I’ve always admired.”