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Countdown to Trade Deadline: Which Power Forward Should Houston Rockets Keep?

Mar 17, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors (15) shoots during the first quarter as Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) and forward Terrence Jones (6) defend at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors (15) shoots during the first quarter as Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) and forward Terrence Jones (6) defend at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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Jan 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; The floor from the Summit is on display in front of the Legends Lockers at Toyota Center before a game between the Houston Rockets and the Washington Wizards. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After a surprising 2015 campaign that saw the Houston Rockets reach the Western Conference Finals, the odds were that with a couple tweaks and moves, Leslie Alexander’s team could aim higher.

More than 50 games into this season the Rockets have fired their head coach Kevin McHale and have already equaled the total losses amassed last season. Worse they struggled with their short term goal to hold onto their unimpressive and disappointing 7th seed. A battle they lost on the last game prior to the All-Star break with a second loss in 5 days to the team who supplants them (the Blazers). In fact they enter the break having lost 3 consecutive games, sitting outside the playoffs in 9th and sport a sub .500 record of 27-28.

And while the big headlines insists on debating Dwight Howard’s unhappiness in Houston and whether the team should engage in talks about shipping him off, the most likely trade scenarios right now involve the team’s two upcoming Restricted Free Agents: Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas.

Given their recent demise if there ever was a time for changes in Houston, it’s now. Plus with constant reports surfacing throughout the league of teams desperate to trade and acquire assets, coaches being on the hot seat and injuries taking out key contributors this promises to be one of the most exciting trade deadlines in recent history.

So far Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey has remained quiet (even while rumors rage of Howard’s potential departure), but the time when he must make tough choices is approaching. Whether to enter full-blown rebuilding mode or acquire one or two pieces and try to make one final push to the post season, one thing is certain, there will be personnel turnover in Houston in the following weeks.

With that, this article intends to debate the case of  Houston Rockets young Power Forwards, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas and what the team should do with them entering the deadline.

So, let’s go ahead and start things off with a comparison of the two players

Next: Who takes the lead?

Dec 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) drives the ball as Los Angeles Lakers forward Nick Young (0) defends during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Teammate Counterparts

Terrence Jones:

Age: 24

Height: 6’9

Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent

Salary Status: $2,489,530 for the 2015-2016 season.

Best Season as a Rocket: 2013-2014 – 76 GP, 71 GS – Averages of 27.3 mpg, 12.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.1 apg, 54.2 FG%, 30.7 3P%, 60.5% FT%

Donatas Motiejunas:

Age: 25

Height: 7’0

Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent

Salary Status: $2,288,205 for the 2015-2016 season

Best Season as a Rocket: 2014-2015 – 71 GP, 62 GS – Averages of 28.7 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.8 apg, 50.4 FG%, 36.8 3P%, 60.2 FT%

Now if you’ve never watched either player on court, the above table would hardly be able to provide any help with the decision of choosing one or the other.

They look remarkably alike.

And it gets worse, they are both Power Forwards, they both have injury problems and each of them has had a sub-par year.

It’s well worth noting that within three years of their contracts they’ve never actually played a full season with the Rockets, Motiejunas best was 71 games and TJ’s 76.

In reality even if you are an avid Houston Rockets follower it might still comes down to particular taste to a certain style or other.

Donatas Motiejunas is more offensive oriented, Terrence Jones offers more in terms of reliability on defense.

Nevertheless, if we are to believe the recent reports by some of the top NBA analysts, the Houston Rockets are perhaps getting close to a decision.

Next: Terrence Jones on the chopping block

Dec 23, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones (6) against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Market Value

The market demands Terrence Jones.

Since the beginning of the year Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets organization should’ve probably foreseen this moment. They can’t keep both players next year as they will demand top dollars in free agency.

Odds are that the Houston Rockets are gauging interest in Terrence Jones, evaluating the market in order to get something out of him.

Not sure they are there… smart money says Terrence Jones, but not sure Rockets pull the trigger. https://t.co/NJC8tb9Ikl

— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) February 9, 2016

The good question surrounding TJ is – –  Why exactly are the Rockets so keen to trade  Terrence Jones? The answer most likely involves the word consistency. Or in his case, the lack thereof.

Throughout his four year stint in Houston, Jones has alternated glimpses of greatness and poor performances.

It’s just that when your team is struggling, those poor performances are spotlighted which might lead to a talented player getting thrown on the chopping block.

Whereas Motiejunas last season in Houston constantly showcased a myriad of surprising and exciting weapons. Motiejunas’ post-up plays, his defensive effort, hook shots, spin moves, and moves in general that fans all over the world hardly knew he possessed.

D-Mo finished the 2014-2015 season as one of the most improved players in the league, let alone the Houston Rockets.

That’s not to say the Lithuanian big man is safe from any speculation. We will evaluate this in depth later.

Now, assuming that the Rockets are willing to trade Terrence Jones, then which teams would be willing to land him?

  • It would have to be a team willing to spend top dollars to retain him in free agency, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense to acquire him now.
  • A team looking for frontcourt depth.
  • Most likely a franchise in rebuilding mode.

Using the referred guidelines I’ve came up with a shortlist of five teams who would be willing to trade for Terrence Jones.

Next: Trade Destinations

 

Oct 13, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones (6) shoots the ball in the second half against Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Trade Options

Of the other 29 teams in the league, I believe at least 5 of them would be willing to invest a sizable amount of its cap space on Terrence Jones.

The Indiana Pacers who lack strength and athleticism below the rim might be enticed to throw one of their many guards (perhaps C.J. Miles) for Houston’s young power forward.

New Orleans Pelicans where he would play side by side with fellow Kentucky teammate Anthony Davis. The Pelicans are having a terrible season and could be looking for a fresh start. Uniting the two (still young) former college stars can be a place to kick things off.

No idea why but the Atlanta Hawks are in full-on rebuilding mode, shopping around assets like Jeff Teague and Al Horford. The Hawks need size, rebounding and bench power. Terrence Jones can offer all that with much more quality than my fellow countryman Tiago Splitter that despite offering championship experience, seems to be in the twilight of his career already at 31 years old.

We also have the Detroit Pistons as I’ve recently debated in another article, Terrence Jones could be involved in a three way trade that would help Daryl Morey bring the coveted point guard Brandon Jennings to Houston, and have Terrence Jones landing in Brooklyn.

The most interesting option from Houston Rockets perspective in my opinion however, remains with the Phoenix Suns:

For this deal to work the Rockets would have to deal someone else besides Terrence Jones to the Suns.

If Daryl Morey would be willing to part ways with Corey Brewer then you better expect he would want real value back, more than Markieff Morris. And Alex Len in my opinion is a valuable asset being wasted playing backup to Tyson Chandler in Arizona. The Rockets would be wise pursuing that route even as insurance in case Dwight Howard bolts.

Daryl Morey could easily work Alex Len in another trade or even get him to share the center spot with Clint Capela.

The odds of Phoenix and Houston swapping power forwards are pretty high, but expect the Toronto Raptors and the New Orleans Pelicans to put up a fight for him as well.

Next up let’s evaluate Donatas Motiejunas.

Next: Not as safe as it sounds

Mar 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) reacts after making a basket during the first quarter against the Orlando Magic at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The case for Donatas Motiejunas

Here’s where it gets trickier.

I’d argue it’s more than expected that the Houston Rockets are dealing one of their power forwards this season. But it’s entirely different to say they are keeping the other one.

Even if Donatas Motiejunas isn’t traded by February 18th there’s absolutely no guarantee he will be wearing a Rockets uniform for the 2016-2017 season.

If there’s one thing Morey hates is not having flexibility, and if the deal for Motiejunas is not right it’s almost certain the Rockets will let the Lithuanian walk.

More from Space City Scoop

There’s also the issue with his back. His market evaluation may be lower due to his injury problems this season and this might give Houston some room to negotiate a reasonable contract for D-Mo.

I’d say that the Rockets would be wise in retaining Donatas Motiejunas services if he commands no more than 12 million dollars per year, and that’s according to my evaluation.

Daryl Morey wouldn’t even be willing to go as high as 9 Million if I were to guess. If you compare it with the deals recently done with Patrick Beverley and Corey Brewer, they are nowhere near that.

It all comes down to D-Mo’s back injury rehabilitation. His performances will be key in determining his value to the team and the franchise’s future.

Next: Should Houston Rockets trade for Markieff Morris?

Next: Countdown to Deadline, Potential Rockets Trades

Next: Join Space City Scoop Writing Team

With the trade deadline around the corner make sure you visit Space City Scoop daily for our trade series. Each day SCS will feature an article on who the Rockets should trade for or what it would take to part ways with the players currently on the roster. Finally we’ll assess the Rockets and each team in the Association in terms of what their needs are, if they should be buyers or sellers and also speculate on who would be the ideal trade target.

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