Q&A: Stan Van Gundy on Motiejunas, Thornton Trades

Stan Van Gundy commented Thursday night on the trade that brings Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton from Houston in exchange for Joel Anthony and a protected 2016 first-round draft pick.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts on the addition of Motiejunas and Thornton and sending Joel Anthony out?

STAN VAN GUNDY: First of all, Joel was a really, really hard guy for us to let go and to say goodbye to, more so probably than most fans would think for a guy who hasn’t played a lot. I’ve been privileged to coach a lot of great people, high-character guys, and I don’t think I’ve ever coached a better professional than Joel Anthony. He’s exactly the type of guy you want in your organization and it was hard to let him go.

But we got the chance to get another highly skilled young player with great size and versatility in Motiejunas. You’ve got a 7-footer who can score inside with either hand, who can shoot the ball out to the 3-point line, who can really pass and is an above-average defender, especially as a team defender. Another guy who adds both skill and versatility to us. It was just way too good to pass up.

And then Marcus Thornton, we think, is a guy who can come off the bench and give you scoring and help fill the void we’ve had since Jodie (Meeks) went down early in the year.

Q: What is the level of concern over the back injury Motiejunas suffered last season that has limited him to 14 games this year?

SVG: He supposedly is healthy and ready to get going right now. You always worry about a back, certainly. In terms of a physical, we’re going to have him checked out very, very well as he comes in. But it’s a calculated risk. A little more risk, maybe, than some of the other deals we’ve had, but with a very high reward. This is a guy who last year averaged 12 points and six rebounds and shot 37 percent from three and over 50 percent from the floor on a team that went to the Western Conference finals, a really talented 7-foot guy who played about two-thirds of his minutes last year with Dwight Howard.

So he can play with Andre (Drummond), but he can also play as a backup center and now we have what we’ve talked about this year that some other teams have a chance to do, which is to play a stretch five, not just a stretch four. We think when you add Donatas to the group that we’ve already put together, we think we’re equipped to deal with any kind of lineup anybody might play against us. We can go small with Marcus (Morris) and Tobias (Harris), we can go big with Donatas, so we feel we’re well equipped going forward. And, again, he’s 25 years old. I think when you look at the core of our team, we just added a great deal of talent and skill to what we’re doing?

Q: How long have you had interest in Motiejunas? There was some talk about him during the draft last June.

SVG: He’s been a guy that’s been very, very high on our list for a long time. When our scouts get together and do their thing, that’s what happened at the trade deadline. Both he and Tobias have been very, very high on our list. It just happened to be a situation with Tobias where it didn’t work out in the summer because we couldn’t pursue him because of the restricted free agent thing. And Donatas was then just coming off the injury or just had the injury.

So you didn’t know where you were going with that, but these are two guys that our scouts have liked for a long time and have been at the top of their list, not only in terms of their talent and skill but also high-character guys, highly competitive. So we would never, going in, if you would have asked two weeks ago and said, “You’ve got a chance to get either one of those guys, certainly both,” we would have laughed, quite honestly. We just didn’t see any avenue to those guys.

Q: What about the situation of dealing for a restricted free agent, as Motiejunas will be in July?

SVG: You get a guy from a team that isn’t sure they’re going to be able to allocate the resources in order to pay him. We looked long and hard at that. Again, a little bit of a calculated risk. I don’t think anybody in the NBA knows exactly what the market is going to look like for guys this summer. You gauge it the best you can. But we’ve looked at our situation and all the options we have and we feel like we’ll have a very, very good chance to re-sign him.

The fact he’s restricted means he can’t walk away without us letting him walk away. We weren’t going to give away assets for unrestricted free agents and so we feel good about it.

Tobias’ situation is even easier. He’s locked in. With Reggie (Jackson) we had to take a little bit of a risk. With this one we had to take a little bit of a risk. But you’re going to have to take some risk in order to get better. There are no deals where there’s no risk and we feel like this was a risk we could handle. We talked to Tom (Gores, Pistons owner) about it and Tom deals with risk all the time and I think all of us in the organization felt like this was a risk well worth taking.