There is an ancient Chinese proverb often quoted: "As far away as the horizon, yet right in front of the face." In trying to overcome some perceived weakness, some perceived shortcoming, to answer some question we have about the core of ourselves, we have a tendency to look far and wide for the answers.
Sometimes, the longer we look and the harder we try, the further from a solution we find ourselves. We are reminded that often the answers lie not in some far away land or within the re-molding of someone else's idea, but instead are right there in front of us, simply waiting to be uncovered.
Enter the Houston Rockets and Donatas Motiejunas. The Rockets had been searching for an every day power forward since Luis Scola last trotted down the Toyota Center hardwood in all of his Samson-inspired glory three seasons ago, and it's traditionally been a position the Rockets have struggled to consistently fill.
The Rockets owned the rights to Motiejunas when they amnestied Scola in the 2012 offseason, and hoped that the Lithuanian 7-footer could effectively transition to the NBA game after his prior success playing in Europe. Progress was slow.
Motiejunas showed some flashes that included nice post skills and a soft touch around the bucket to complement a still-developing jumper, but like a lot of young players, he searched a bit to find his exact fit offensively and had troubles with team defense and rotations, averaging a full 5 fouls per 36 minutes through his first two seasons and struggling to stay on the court for any consistent duration.
He was losing court time his rookie season to the already underwhelming Patrick Patterson, and Terrence Jones, whom the Rockets used a first-round pick on in 2012, was being groomed as a potential long-term answer at power forward.
As Jones emerged with a promising season in 2013-2014 playing next to the newly acquired Dwight Howard, it appeared Motiejunas had missed his opening, and some felt he was destined for an inglorious Rockets run, occasionally appearing on the second team, but mostly riding the bench, before moving on to greener pastures and opportunities elsewhere.
The Rockets' faith in Motiejunas, or lack thereof, was reaffirmed in the 2014 offseason with the famous hard run at Chris Bosh, who was already everything the Rockets had hoped Motiejunas would become: An effective post man and shooter who was capable of spreading the floor next to Dwight Howard, hitting the occasional 3, blocking the occasional shot and was just effective enough (though hardly dominant) as a defender and rebounder to take the Rockets to the next level.
Bosh was also capable of helping to carry the scoring load should the Rockets find themselves without the services of Howard or James Harden for any length of time, a job he carried out quite effectively and frequently in Miami when Dwyane Wade's glass knees slowly began to crack. There was every reason to believe he could come to Houston and do that exact same thing: be the third wheel, but an effective third wheel.
The Rockets wooed Bosh with an immense dowry: four years, $88 million, which was a massive contract for a team already paying two mega-stars. The Rockets would be strapped financially if Bosh agreed and would need to find a few inexpensive diamonds, but Daryl Morey would make it work, at least in the short term, because he's Daryl Morey and that's what he does.
But as the fates would have it, Chris Bosh chose 21 points per game and a likely lottery trip in Miami over 15 points per game and fighting for home court advantage in the meat grinder otherwise known as the Western Conference in Houston. The Rockets were forced to dance with the dates they showed up with in Jones and Motiejunas.
A second twist of fate had Motiejunas' feather floating Forrest Gump-style once again, as Jones went down in the fourth game of this season with a nerve issue, putting the third-year Motiejunas front and center as the starting power forward on a team with championship aspirations.
Motiejunas started slowly, averaging single-digit points and under 50 percent shooting through his first eight starts, but really started to turn his arrow upward with Dwight Howard's first absence in game 13, notching a double-double and seemingly solidifying his place in the starting lineup.
But alas, our hero's story doesn't end here. With Terrence Jones still ailing, The Rockets once again attempted to upgrade the power forward position with a big name, signing Josh Smith to a Christmas-time free agent deal after his epic flameout in Detroit.
Rumors swirled about promises made to Smith of starting. Rockets fans grumbled ever so slightly about disrupting the sudden chemistry developed with Motiejunas in the starting lineup, and soon thereafter, had their concerns realized, as Smith struggled out of the gate as a starter, averaging a mere 4.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and shooting only 25 percent from the field, while the Rockets went 0-3 with him in the starting five.
As a result, Motiejunas found himself as the starter again and has yet to look back, while Smith has found his niche and has been a model citizen as a primary scoring option off the bench.
Since his reinsertion into the starting five around the new year, Motiejunas has really blossomed, averaging 13.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 0.5 blocks per game on 55.2 percent shooting from the field, 38 percent from deep, and helping the Rockets to a 15-7 record since Dec. 31 (extrapolates to 57-25 over a full season), including a 6-2 record during Dwight Howard's latest absence.
As a comparison, in Chris Bosh's final two seasons in Miami playing alongside both LeBron James and Wade (a more apt comparison than Bosh's current Miami situation given the roster difference), he averaged 16.4 points, 6.7 rebounds. 1.5 assists, and 1.3 blocks on 52.5 percent shooting from the field and 33% from deep.
Additionally, Motiejunas is on the books for $1.5 million this season, with the Rockets holding a team option next year for $2.2 million. Bosh, had he been present, would be gobbling up approximately $22 million a year for the next four seasons, leaving the Rockets cash-strapped and essentially dumpster diving for complementary pieces for what would most likely be only incrementally better (and soon to be declining) production.
Motiejunas on the other hand, despite the many twists and turns he took to get to this point, has the sky as his limit as a 24-year-old 7-footer with three NBA seasons of learning under his belt. Sure, you'd like to see some better rebounding and rim protection from a man with his size, but as far as his fit alongside Harden and Howard, his early development as an offensive force, and the flexibility his contract allows the Rockets moving forward, there isn't a better attainable fit for this squad at the moment.
The Chinese proverb has proven true, but more apt advice could be found in philosophers a bit more modern. Wise men also once said, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need."