At his best, Lithuanian center Donatas Motiejunas is a low-post savant who can get buckets over either shoulder, an outside threat who consistently nails open threes, and a crafty rim protector. At his worst, he is a lumbering seven footer who struggles on the glass, cannot guard a pick and roll, and slowly runs rim-to-rim in transition.
Oh, and did I mention the injuries? Motiejunas has a bad history of back problems, a bloody red flag for seven footers. He has played just 14 games this season because of a mysterious, nagging back injury.
On Wednesday, the Rockets shipped away Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for a protected first round pick. The trade was made largely for financialreasons: the Rockets are now $1.25 million below the hard cap.
TDS writer Max Croes expressed disgust with the trade in his recent post. While Max continuously suggests Motiejunas is on the rise and has all the tools to be a "glue guy" in the league, he only admits the injury risks as a caveat, not a real factor. I would argue that the value Houston got in return — a top 8 protected first round pick — is a fantastic haul for a seven footer with a shaky future who would compete for minutes in the Rockets' frontcourt and would probably leave this summer anyway.
The value of a draft pick
First round draft picks are at an all-time premium, and Detroit's is potentially at a solid position. The Pistons, especially after their aggressive trade deadline, are destined for the playoffs in my opinion, but have a relatively short ceiling. I think an 18-10 finish to the season is realistic, but I'm personally very bullish on them. If the Pistons do win 18 of the final 28 games, they will have a 45-37 record, which would yield a draft pick in the high teens.
Although this particular draft is not nearly as critically renowned as last year's, the Rockets can rebuild with smart draft choices. According to Draft Express' mock draft, Michigan State forward Denzel Valentine may be available in the 16-20 range. Potentially having two first round draft picks is extremely valuable, even if one is outside the lottery (the Rockets keep their pick if they miss the playoffs).
Rebuilding through the draft is crucial to a team that isn't too far away from contention. Or, the Rockets can go a different avenue and improve through trading like they have in the past. This extra first round pick is another asset to add to the treasure chest.
There aren't enough minutes to go around
When he's healthy, Donuts is probably the Rockets' third best big man behind Dwight Howard and Clint Capela. The Rockets like going with a Howard-Capela frontcourt, and they sometimes stick Trevor Ariza at the four for spacing in a small lineup. Josh Smith also needs to play his minutes and Terrence Jones will play his 20 or so minutes per game.
So where would Motiejunas fit in? His return could disrupt whatever rotations the Rockets have going right now with their plethora of big men.
If You're Going to Keep One, Keep the Sure Thing
As Max outlined in his article, Donatas Motiejunas was always the favorite to get resigned this offseason. Terrence Jones and D-Mo both become restricted free agents this summer and Motiejunas' potential outweighed Jones' plateaued skills.
That is where he's wrong. Trading Donatas Motiejunas admits the Rockets, yes, had their eyes set on this summer for Jones and Motiejunas. But since D-mo's future is uncertain because of his injury history, the Rockets chose Jones. Max said this about Terrence Jones:
Yes, Jones is undersized and struggles defensively, but he is an athlete and a strong body. While Jones has his flaws, he also has strengths like an improving three point stroke and a physical offensive presence. Plus, the best ability is availability and that's where Jones may have an advantage.
Jones has also failed to stay on the court, but his injuries are more flukey and less likely to reoccur like Motiejunas' back problems. Nerve damage in the leg and concussions are scary, but they likely won't be problematic going forward (knock on wood).