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Key deadline passes for Rockets' Donatas Motiejunas

Fran Blinebury

From the time he first sat behind the microphone at training camp back in September, coach Mike D’Antoni expected to have power forward Donatas Motiejunas in his Rockets lineup by now.

But a month into the season, the 26-year-old restricted free agent has still not come to terms on a new deal with the club and now a not insignificant — if unofficial — deadline has passed. Players not signed by Wednesday are now ineligible to be swapped by the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

The 7-foot Motiejunas chose to let the Rockets $4.4 million qualifying offer expire before the season began and he and agent B.J. Armstrong have not believed the team’s multi-year offer that starts at a reported $7- to $8-million per year is enough in the current market. It was reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.com that the Rockets have now pulled that offer from the table.

At this point, all D’Antoni can do is shrug.

“You’ve got to take care of business,” the coach said. “It’s not my business. It’s his. He has to do what’s best for him.

“Where you sign a contract is really important. After you sign, it’s all about the team. Right now, it’s about him. I can see that.

“We’d like to have him here. But I understand that there’s a part of the business that you have to do. Hopefully, he’ll make good decisions and be happy.”

Now 15 games into the season and with the return of guard Patrick Beverley from offseason knee surgery, D’Antoni has settled a nine-man rotation that has second-year man Sam Dekker getting more minutes at both forward spots.

Motiejunas averaged 12 points and 5.9 rebounds two seasons ago. But his production dipped in 2015-16 and the fact that he’s had two back surgeries has the Rockets cautious about making too much of a long-range commitment.

“You always move on,” D’Antoni said. “We’re not waiting for him. You try to develop guys and develop roles. We are doing that. At the same time, he’s that good where if things change we’ll welcome him in. Then we’ll work and see what happens.

“But again, this is a time that he has get good with himself because this is a business and the organization is a business. I can say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s loyalty.’ And then we trade him the next day. So that’s not fair. Players have to do what they think’s the best for them and when you’re on the team then obviously it becomes a team sport.”

If Motiejunas were to sign to play overseas, the Rockets would still hold his rights as a restricted free agent. Houston can still sign him to a new deal at any time this season.

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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