I’ll admit: this is a weird preview to write.
This Religious Studies scholar named Victor Turner wrote about what he calls the “liminal” and “liminal spaces.” To drastically oversimplify for my own selfish purposes, a liminal space is an in-between space, or, the period of time in which a change occurs (i.e. how we define things as a Pre or Post era). I say all this because Donatas Motiejunas is, weirdly enough, in a liminal place with the Houston Rockets.
With his qualifying offer expiring, and the Rockets already having 15 players on guaranteed contracts, Motiejunas certainly isn’t on the Rockets. But at the same time, D-Mo’s twitter bio reads, “Player of Houston Rockets.” He still works out like he’s on an NBA contract. He is still very strangely open when fans ask about his contract with the team.
He isn’t on the Rockets, but he also is kind of not not on the Rockets. I apologize for all the negatives. The situation is confusing. Regardless, I’ll try to preview what Donatas could (and might!) do for Houston this year.
We all know what D-Mo can do. He’s a seven-footer, a capable rebounder and three-point shooter. He’s a superb passer for his size, and seemingly a very good teammate all around. Though he only played 37 games last year, he played 71 the year before. Before his injury issues, he was a vital part of the Rockets’ chemistry and success when they had chemistry and success. A lot of both of those went out the window last season, but certainly not because of Motiejunas’ absence.
The Rockets are, effectively, starting from scratch this year. New coach, new system, largely new roster. Same focal point, sure, but the pieces in place are much more suited to the organization’s long-term goals. Meanwhile, if the situation weren’t so oddly public, it would almost feel like the lack of Donatas Motiejunas in those long-term goals was an oversight.
The fact of the matter is the lanky Lithuanian really would work well under Mike D’Antoni’s approach. The passing, cutting, and open shots for D-Mo would only benefit his game, and his post prowess would be a more than welcome addition to the second unit.
This is not to say that there wouldn’t be issues. There likely would: Donatas Motiejunas is a good half-court player, not one who necessarily thrives in the fast break. A player with the athletic skill set like Montrezl Harrell would likely still get many of D-Mo’s minutes were he actually on the roster. This is fine and understandable and makes sense.
But, this is also where this preview gets pretty tough to write. The Rockets have already filled a 15-player roster with a very guard-heavy team. In all likelihood, some of these players will be sent down to RGV and come up as needed. Even still, the Rockets current post-rotation is very, very shallow with Clint Capela/Nene at center and Ryan Anderson/a very inexperienced Montrezl at power forward (if Chinanu Onuaku sees much time in Houston during the regular season, we’ll have a problem).
I want to be able to say, “D-Mo will be huge off the bench this year. With him running a pick and pop with Eric Gordon while Nene or Capela rolling to the basket, the Rockets’ second unit will shine in comparison to 2015-2016,” but I can’t say that because Motiejunas — the hook-shotting, three-shooting, soccer-player-hair-having fan favorite — is off in the NBA free agency ether with a dead offer from the Rockets, and no offer from anywhere else. And there is nothing I can really do about that, I guess, besides tweet at Daryl Morey a lot to fix that shit.
D-Mo is stuck in the middle in the worst way, which is really a shame because a team like Houston could really use a guy like him.