A six-month saga has come to a deflating conclusion as the Houston Rockets announced Thursday afternoon they renounced their rights to restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas. This makes the Lithuanian power forward an unrestricted free agent, able to sign with any team.
Since Twitter was created, every decision made has winner and losers. So let’s be petty and call some people big fancy winners and some people losery losers who still make millions of dollars for doing jobs they love.
Donatas Motiejunas — The big man finally has his future and destiny in his own hands with long-term certainty potentially around the corner. Motiejunas, and his agent, BJ Armstrong, can now solicit any team in the NBA or in Europe without the Rockets having an ability to match the contract and weigh in on the power forward’s future. D-Mo is now only a signature away from playing NBA basketball, which was his stated goal from the day he began missing time with his back injury.
BJ Armstrong — The three-time NBA champion, podcast host and agent may have just won his fourth title. He went to the mat for his player against one of the most hard-nosed general managers in the league and won. We’ll never know the details of why Motiejunas was let go, how the idea to skip the physical arose or how many rounds both Armstrong and the Rockets went on the restricted deal the Rockets matched, but NBA players know that BJ Armstrong will relentlessly go to the mat for his clients. The same way he spent three years doing unheralded dirty work and paper pushing for Chicago Bulls championship teams.
Houston Rockets’ reputation — The Rockets already have a history of discarding players like the thumb tacks in a high-speed chase. Toss ‘em out the window, hope they buy you some time and make off as fast as you can. The “this is business” aspect of the Rockets strategy has been front-and-center with the Motiejunas negotiations. They offered him a one-year, $4 million deal then matched the Nets’ offer, only to decline to match the incentives in the deal, which were not covered by the last CBA deal. They then negotiated a new contract with Motiejunas, which obviously had provisions Motiejunas and Armstrong objected to.
None of this generally matters. The Rockets just gave James Harden a free $10 million and made him one of the league’s highest-paid players long before they needed to negotiate. It’s clear the team takes care of big fish. But if you’re a backup, borderline starter or player showing promise but coming up on a new contract, you’re probably not going to get the best offer from the Rockets.
Mike D’Antoni — The Rockets coach loses out on the opportunity to add another weapon to his run-and-gun system. D-Mo shot 36.8% from three two seasons ago and it’s clear from his time in a Rockets and Vipers uniform that he understands the importance of improving his outside shot to exist in the modern NBA.
Plus, D-Mo can execute the pick-and-roll. Ryan Anderson is a better shooter at power forward, but there’s no value at all in even attempting a pick and roll with Anderson if Capela or Harrell are not on the court. D-Mo never gets credit for his passing and ability to find ways to score around the rim. Having him in the Rockets offense would provide D’Antoni with more lineup flexibility then he currently has.
Donatas Motiejunas — This has nothing to do with Motiejunas, who ultimately is the biggest winner. But he still has to find another contract and hope it’s going to be the long-term deal he was seeking all along. That’s not a guarantee yet, and none of the teams with cap space are better than the Rockets. And at the end of the day D-Mo has lost between $10 and $15 million because of a back injury that arrived at the same time NBA salaries exploded.