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Houston Rockets: Donatas Motiejunas Won’t Be Ready For Training Camp

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Last season the Houston Rockets suffered multiple man games lost due to many of their top players suffering injuries. With Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones missing significant time Donatas Motiejunas was tasked with picking up the majority of the slack playing both at the center and power forward positions.

Looking at the chart below, Houston was the one team who made the playoffs with significant injuries. Part of the quality lost in the post season for the Rockets was due to both Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley  being out with injuries.

#NBA plot of games missed vs their quality and colored by playoff status (in, out) #Rockets stand out pic.twitter.com/nu95K3rH8u

— Man Games Lost NBA (@ManGamesLostNBA) April 13, 2015

It does make me wonder how long Motiejunas was playing injured and how much pain he was in given back surgery isn’t something any player undergoes without careful consideration. For example, looking at Howard he’s never really returned to the dominate performer he was prior to his back surgery. This might be attributed to him naturally aging and the wear and tear on his body or it could be that a back surgery affected his ability to produce at his previous levels.

Howard had his surgery to repair a herniated disc in the spring of 2012 when he was 27 years old. Some pundits speculate when a player returns from an injury they compensate for the injury which can lead to other parts of the body getting injured but Howard was able to play in 76 and 71 games his first two seasons following his surgery.

For Motiejunas his surgery occurred this past April when he was 24 (he’ll turn 25 in two days) and was termed a Microdiscectomy or Microdecompression as per the picture and description below. It was felt at the time that DeMo would be ready prior to training camp and possibly even for EuroBasket to play with his native Lithuanian Team who are attempting to secure an Olympic berth and will play today in the semi finals to accomplish that feat. So when Motiejunas wasn’t available for that tournament many thought perhaps he was erring on the side of caution to allow his back ample time to heal in order to be fully ready for Rockets training camp.

Then news came via Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen following the Tuesday night season ticket holder event coach Kevin McHale updated that Motiejunas would not be ready for training camp. We did get some indication this might be the case with the signing of Montrezl Harrell this week and yesterday when the Rockets added another training camp contract in center Joshua Smith.

McHale added a couple nuggets. Reiterated that Motiejunas won't be cleared for start of camp and Harrell signed, due in town next day or 2.

— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) September 16, 2015

How concerned should Clutch City fans be? Well, though we wonder why it’s taking this long we have to remember it’s back surgery, and as per the above description this type of surgery also affects his legs and nerves. I know many of you just flashed back to last season when Terrence Jones had nerve issues in his legs that kept him off the court for more than half the season. Without more details we are left to speculate on how serious this situation is. Obviously the Rockets will want to make sure DeMo is fully healthy before returning and hopefully he won’t rush back prior to being 100%.

The other big question is reviewing his massive leap in production last season how will this injury affect negotiations for his rookie contract extension which ideally needs to be addressed prior to season start. Although his playing time increased last season his production warranted those minutes as he doubled his points per game from 5.5 to 12.0 as well as his assists from 0.5 to 1.8  and steals from 0.3 to 0.8. Furthermore his shooting was greatly improved from both the field increasing from 44.3% to 50.4% and from behind the arc improving significantly from 25.0% to 36.8%.

Looking at Howard’s number following his surgery is also misleading given he moved from an offensive system built around him to the Lakers prior to joining Houston, so his reduced stats could be partially due to him not being the main focus of the offense, him aging and other injuries. Given Motiejunas had his surgery while 3 years  younger than Howard was it hopefully means he can still improve and hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.

However, with this uncertainty of his health and back condition does that put doubt in GM Daryl Morey’s mind to hold off negotiating his renewal? And further does it add extra pressure to Motiejunas camp to sign in terms of whether they should sign a shorter term or less money?

For now it’s enough of a sign the Rockets appear concerned enough to have inked Harrell to a 3 year term and brought in another big man for training camp to make us all wonder about Motiejunas health. Prior to this news I would have said Houston looked well positioned for the future with Clint Capela showing signs he could develop into Howard’s replacement and DeMo potentially moving to the starting power forward position.

Now we’ll all wait to see what Morey does with the rookie extension offer to see if that gives us any hints to what either side believes. In the interim we’ll send out best wishes for a full recovery of Motiejunas back and the hopes he continues progressing up the ladder like he did in his break out season last year.

Remember to stay connected with Space City Scoop and make us a daily stop on your reading list for all things Houston Rockets.

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