Motiejunas missing the point - and fun - as Rockets roll on without him
HOUSTON — Mike D’Antoni means it when he keeps saying there will be nothing but good vibrations if Donatas Motiejunas walks back through that door.
But that doesn’t mean the Rockets are waiting. Not when they are having this much fun and success already.
After all, any team would welcome a 7-footer that’s got the light footwork of a ballroom dancer in the paint and a nice shooting touch.
Yet the Rockets have gotten to this point at 15-7, as perhaps the league’s biggest upside surprise of the season, without looking as if there are any gaping, needy holes.
What Motiejunas is missing by refusing to report after the team matched the restricted free agent offer from the Nets is another of those nights when James Harden simply looks like the coolest cat in the jazz club, playing riffs with his crossover dribble and step-back 3-pointers or handing off the melody to another in the band on backdoor cuts and long, leading fast break passes.
Motiejunas is missing the chance to be part of a second unit with Eric Gordon, who is the league’s second-leading scorer off the bench and dropped in 26 points on eight 3-pointers Wednesday night in a 134-95 thumping of the Lakers.
Motiejunas is missing the bundle of kinetic energy that is Pat Beverley, taking time in addition to his fierce, frantic defense to mix in a clever little wrap-around pass to a trailing Harden for a bottom-of-the-net trey or dives for a loose ball and without even coming all the way up off the floor, flips a behind-the-back pass to a charging Clint Capela for a breakaway slam.
He’s also missing the point.
Motiejunas and his agent B.J. Armstrong are like a couple of bank robbers who show up at the teller’s window pointing their guns at themselves.
In turning up their noses at the Rockets and making a stand for what Armstrong has called D-Mo’s “rights,” all that is missing is logic and leverage and even a trace of common sense.
For while Motiejunas has proven to be a solid situation player through four NBA seasons, he was still more potential than proof when he became a restricted free agent last July. While so many others were requiring wheelbarrows to haul off the piles of cash that were being tossed out all summer, D-Mo could not get a bite, in part because he has undergone a pair of back surgeries, which has made teams reluctant to make a long-term commitment.
When the lowly, foundering Nets finally stepped up last week to make a $37-million, four-year offer sheet, it came with more than a few strings attached and was only partially guaranteed. According to the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, the Rockets only had to match the principle terms of the offer — not including all incentives — which made the deal worth about $31 million.
The Rockets can keep their first-refusal notice open and simply wait for Motiejunas to report. If he does not, the team can pull the offer Thursday and Motiejunas becomes a restricted free agent. If they don’t pull the offer, it automatically expires March 1.
So now Armstrong and Motiejunas are making a stand on “rights” when it is really about the $6 million that was left on the table by their own limp negotiating. And keep in mind, the Rockets already traded Motiejunas once last February, only to have the Pistons back out on the deal when they said he could not pass a physical.
“When we get rebounds and push the ball, it’s real hard for teams to match up with us in transition. It’s a fun style of basketball.”
Houston’s Ryan Anderson
There might have been a time at the end of last season’s oh-so-miserable 41-41 campaign when the potential of Motiejunas was the kind of valuable asset a rebuilding Rockets team could not afford to let get away. However, an offseason that unburdened them from the moodiness of Dwight Howard and brought in the floor-spacing, sharp-shooting talents of Gordon and Ryan Anderson through free agency has the Rockets not just buoyant again, but practically walking on water in D’Antoni’s free-wheeling offense.
“When we get rebounds and push the ball, it’s real hard for teams to match up with us in transition,” Anderson said. “It’s a fun style of basketball.”
A week ago the Rockets went to overtime in Oakland to out-duel the league-leading Warriors in what was likely the most entertaining game played in the league so far this season and since then have won four in a row, dancing to their own music with Harden as conductor.
Gordon has now made at least four 3-pointers in seven straight games and against the Lakers became just the fifth player in NBA history to make eight 3s in less than 24 minutes. Beverley nearly rang up the first triple-double of his career against L.A.
Meanwhile, if Motiejunas doesn’t report to the Rockets, they can keep his rights and force him to go into next summer as a restricted free agent all over again. He’s also killed most of the goodwill he’d built in Houston.
D’Antoni was talking about an entirely different subject when he said: “This league doesn’t feel sorry for anybody.”
D-Mo is learning, it also doesn’t wait.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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