Rockets GM Daryl Morey conversed with ESPN.com Rockets writer Calvin Watkins on Tuesday, and there were a few important takeaways from their conversation concerning the health of Donatas Motiejunas and Dwight Howard and the breakout of Clint Capela.
First, Morey was asked about the health of D-Mo, who's been sidelined since last season with back surgery and the subsequent recovery. The Rockets' struggles at the power forward position to start the year have made his return all the more important, but unfortunately, Morey didn't have good news in that regard. When Watkins asked, "Is there a timetable on Donatas Motiejunas' return?" Morey responded:
"No. I think again, the doctors are taking the lead there. He's already back on the floor playing basketball, restriction-free. (Now) because it's a back injury the doctors want the muscle that support the back and the legs, in the back area, to be as strong as when he went out, maybe stronger. Also to have the muscles be very balanced, and that's what the doctors are waiting on. Once those are good, then we'll get the green light."
It is good news that Motiejunas is progressing along the road of recovery and rehab, but it sounds like it will be a bit yet before we seem back on the floor with the Rockets. He'll still need to get himself into full game shape, and he'll also need to be reintegrated into the Rockets' rotation, all of which will take time.
He's getting closer, but don't get too over-excited about a imminent return. It sounds like the Rockets are being cautious and thorough, which is certainly the smart thing to do.
But as Terrence Jones continues to struggle, Montrezl Harrell can't get on the floor, and Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka and the other Western Conference power forwards are being guarded by Trevor Ariza and Marcus Thornton (who have been game defenders, but definitely at a disadvantage), getting Motiejunas back on the court has never looked so important.
Morey also addressed the health of Rockets center Dwight Howard, who has sat one half of each back-to-back set so far this season. There was hope Howard would be fully unleashed a short time ago, as coach Kevin McHale hinted at playing him in both games this past weekend, but Morey squashed all that in his talk with Watkins, saying:
"It's going to come down to the doctor's advice. Since his return from being out last season, he has not played back-to-back, and he's played at an extremely high level. So I think the doctors are looking at that and feeling like that's the smartest course at this point. If he gets no symptoms whatsoever and playing at a high level, I think they might mix him in at some point. For now and the foreseeable future, I think they want him to sit out back-to-backs."
Despite a deep need for some consistency and some additional chemistry after last night's 106-98 disheartening loss at home to the Brooklyn Nets, it appears the Rockets are no closer to settling on a nightly lineup or rotation.
Dwight's on-again, off-again presence in the lineup makes only one thing consistent with this year's squad: inconsistency. Combined with the struggles at the four, the uncertainty around Motiejunas, and the curve to get him reintegrated into the rotation when he does finally return, the Rockets look like they will be unsettled and potentially out of step for a while.
The one thing the lack of health in the front court has done for the Rockets is accelerated the development of young center Clint Capela. He's having a fine start to the season, and looks to have grown leaps and bounds over last year's raw version of the Swiss Roll.
Capela has averages of 8.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks on 79.5 percent shooting, along with a positive offensive and defensive plus-minus in just 17.5 minutes a game, making his per 36 stats off the charts.
17.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per 36 is top-of-the-line center territory, and though Capela's ridiculous shooting percentage and player efficiency likely fall off a bit with higher usage and minutes, the 21-year-old looks like he has a bright future in the league.
Morey acknowledged this as well, telling Watkins:
"Sky's the limit for him. To do what he's doing at 22 (he's actually only 21 and 6 months) is amazing in the NBA against the talent in the league and to come from playing mostly in the D-League last season, to start a few games for us, and in games that we've won, is huge. His ability to protect the rim, run the floor, rebound-- we really feel like he's got a chance to be a high-level player."
While the Rockets sound like they may be unsettled for a while, having a young gun like Capela thriving with the opportunity in front of him will only make the Rockets that much more deadly when the team is finally at full strength.
Morey had more to say about Ty Lawson, James Harden's shot and, of course, analytics, and you can catch the rest of his interview with ESPN's Calvin Watkins here.