The biggest unresolved story line left in this fast-dwindling Houston Rockets offseason is the status of big man and restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas. The situation stands right now in a bit of limbo, with the Rockets extending a qualifying one-year offer of $3.2 million to D-Mo, which he has yet to sign. Another team has yet to come through with an offer sheet, as far as we know. There's been nothing but crickets on this front for weeks now.
In fact, the latest information really seen anywhere was a couple tweets sent between D-Mo and our own Max Croes, and unfortunately, they shed very little light on a confusing situation.
@CroesFire you should ask this question someone else ;-)— Donatas Motiejunas (@DonatasMot) August 22, 2016
@DreamShakeSBN @CroesFire that means I don't have an answer to it...— Donatas Motiejunas (@DonatasMot) August 22, 2016
In a look back in recent history for some clues as to what the hold-up actually is, Motiejunas is certainly not the first unusually protracted restricted free agent situation. One that comes immediately to mind is the 2015 case of Tristan Thompson.
Thompson, like D-Mo, was given a one-year tender by the Cavs that wasn't matched elsewhere, and also, like Motiejunas, Thompson held out for something a little more in line with his market value. But that's where things begin to diverge.
The Cavs were actively negotiating a long-term deal with Thompson, rumored to be 5-years, $80-million, while Thompson was looking for something closer to the $100 million range over the length of his deal. The impasse lasted until Oct. 21, well into training camp, when Thompson finally relented, snagging a 5-year, $82 million deal, or just slightly higher than the Cavs' original offer.
Despite a similarly lengthy hold out, to this point, there's been no sign of long-term negotiations with Motiejunas, certainly not publicly.
Eric Bledsoe had a similar situation with the Phoenix Suns back in 2014. Bledsoe was tendered a one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer that no team chose to beat and he refused to sign. The disagreement lasted well into September, and their was even some bad blood between the two parties, with Bledsoe publicly accusing the Suns organization of "using free agency against me."
Eventually, Bledsoe and Phoenix would come to an agreement Sept. 25 for a long-term contract of 5 years, $70 million.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were involved in another one of these lengthy holdouts back in 2007, this one involving the still relatively young Anderson Varejao. The Brazilian big man held out all the way to Dec. 5 before receiving a three-year, $17 million offer from Charlotte, which the Cavs eventually decided to match. Varejao was looking for closer to $10 million per season, and while he didn't get what he wanted, there was at least another team willing to talk long-term deal with him for a little bit of leverage. Eventually. Sasha Pavlovic, Varejao's teammate and fellow RFA that year, signed his deal Oct. 30.
Other than those four deals, Donuts' protracted twisting-in-the-wind over his contract has gone on far longer than your average RFA situation. There appears to be no such team willing to talk long-term for Motiejunas (either his own or some other organization), and that's what makes his situation different from these others in recent history.
Other than the Rockets, there are only seven other teams in the NBA with the cap situation to sign Motiejunas outright: Phoenix, Brooklyn, Utah, Minnesota, Indiana, Denver and Philadelphia. Those teams are either well-loaded on big men or seem reluctant to spend their precious remaining cap space on player who's been inconsistent, despite flashing, and also has a lower back surgery already under his belt at age 25.
There's no doubting that restricted free agency gives the organization a significant amount of leverage over the player. With Motiejunas having no other apparent suitors and the Rockets signing big men Ryan Anderson and Nene Hilario in the offseason to fill any void on the front line, Houston seems to hold most of the cards in this situation. They also seem content to move forward with the roster currently as is.
It's likely that D-Mo is seeking longer-term security than the simple, one-year tender, but the Rockets have the same reservations that other teams have. They see his well-rounded skill set and the flashes of success he's had and feel he could still develop his potential. But they also see his inconsistencies and the giant, red flag of major back surgery, something not everyone just simply bounces back from.
Perhaps the best remaining move for D-Mo at this point is to hedge his bets on himself, play out his one-year tender, prove to the Rockets and the rest of the league that he's fully healthy and able to contribute consistently and then reap the rewards of unrestricted free agency next season, when the NBA salary cap is once again slated to rise.
It might not be the ideal situation for Motiejuanas or for Rockets fans, but it might be the most realistic, and if the Lithuanian forward is as ready to rebound as we hope he is, it becomes a non-issue when he cashes in next summer.
The next step in the D-Mo saga comes Oct. 1, when the qualifying offer either expires or is extended by the team. Stay tuned.