Donatas Motiejunas Qualifying Contract Expires – Now What?

Apr 3, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) claps after a play during the second quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) claps after a play during the second quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

Houston Rockets qualifying offer to Donatas Motiejunas expired at midnight on October 1st, leaving H-Town fans questioning what the next move will be.

In spite of the contract expiration Donatas Motiejunas remains a restricted free agent giving Houston all the leverage in his situation. Though the two sides met on Saturday they could come to no resolution.

The two sides are far apart in their desires with Donatas Motiejunas wanting an offer of between $8 to $10 million per year. While the Houston Rockets qualifying offer was for $4.4 million and it is rumored they were willing to expand the offer to a two or three year term.  That’s between a $3.6 million to  $5.6 million difference which conceivably is why there is a stalemate.

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Following the Rockets preseason opener Calvin Watkins of ESPN spoke of the situation saying Motiejunas is not in Houston. Watkins further stated  D’Antoni was non-committal when asked if D-Mo would travel with the team to China if the contract situation is resolved.

Furthermore, Watkins said Agent B.J. Armstrong felt in mid September the deadline of 11:59 PM,  October 1st would result in resolution. However neither side was able to come to an agreement.  Armstrong is frustrated citing the system as the issue since the Rockets have all the leverage given the restricted terms.

Motiejunas Options:

That said, no other team has stepped up to the plate to offer D-Mo a counter offer for the Rockets to respond to.  Which begs the question, with the offensive versatility Donatas offers how much stead should be put into his back health.  When the Pistons backed out of the trade deadline deal citing D-Mo’s failure to pass their physical it doomed Motiejunas this summer. Whether the Pistons honestly felt Motiejunas was sub par or they were just using a loop hole because they landed Tobias Harris is anyone’s guess.

As it stands only three teams have cap space available to provide an offer: the Denver Nuggets, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.  But, even those teams are limited given their 20 man training camp rosters are full.

These teams aren’t ideal partners for Motiejunas given their front courts are arguably their strongest assets. Philadelphia specifically has a glut of front court players with Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. There was reason to believe Philly might be open to a trade given news Ben Simmons broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot. With the 76ers openly dangling Okafor or Noel as trade bait a swap would be logical.  But, Watkins says that isn’t the case.

Feb 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) after a play during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

For their part the Nuggets boast 2 solid young talents in Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic. In addition they also have Kenneth Faried and a bevy of forwards.

From my perspective the Nets would make the most sense but perhaps Sean Marks has other ideas. Although Brooklyn have Brook Lopez and some front court options they offer potentially the most viable opportunity for Donatas Motiejunas.

Moving Forward:

Having said that, the two sides remain optimistic a deal with get done.  New York will play the Rockets Tuesday October 4th, at the Toyota Center.  Immediately after the Knicks game the Rockets will travel to China for 2 games versus the Pelicans. These contests will take place in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday October 9th and  Wednesday October 12th respectively.

If resolved the next question is whether Donatas Motiejunas would travel with the team or remain in Houston. Logically it might be best for D-Mo to stay behind and work on getting in game condition.

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And while it appears the Rockets hold all the leverage the game versus the Sharks points to an uncertainty at who will be the back-up power forward. Trevor Ariza spent time at the four as did Montrezl Harrell. Ideally Ariza shouldn’t be the player the Rockets use in this role since he remains the best front court defender. Armstrong needs to sell this point to the Rockets.

Ideally the two sides come to terms prior to Houston traveling to China so D’Antoni can get D-Mo into some sets. Ostensibly it would serve the Rockets well to put the Motiejunas contract to bed. Holding out longer could end up forcing Motiejunas into taking a contract in Europe. And while the Rockets would retain Donatas rights, at some point management needs to recognize this doesn’t bode well for the club. Since Morey has repeatedly said there is nothing wrong with D-Mo’s back he needs to show the Lithuanian how important he is to the team.

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Next: Motiejunas 2015-16 highlight reel

While the Rockets appear to have all the leverage, at the end of the day it would serve the franchise better to foster good will with Motiejunas and keep the new found chemistry of the club strong.