Report: Rockets to exercise team options on Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones

1 Comment

NBA rookie-scale contracts give first-round picks two guaranteed seasons followed by two years with team options. Unlike most team options, these must be exercised a full year in advance.

So, a team decides on a third-year option before a player’s second season and on a fourth-year option before a player’s third season. The annual deadline is Oct. 31 (or next business day if it doesn’t fall on one).

Given that the rookie scale is team friendly, many of these options are no-brainers. Of course, the Trail Blazers want Damian Lillard for $4,236,287 in 2015-16.

But there are several close calls around the NBA, including in Houston.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Though Rockets coach Kevin McHale called the Rockets’ power forward position open, saying he needs to see more physical defense and rebounding from the position, a vote of confidence for his returning power forwards, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, is expected before the season begins.

The Rockets intend to pick up their fourth-year option on the contracts for both players, a person with knowledge of the plan said on Tuesday.

Exercising Jones’ $2,489,530 option is an easy call. He’s Houston’s starting power forward, and that’s great value for any starter, let alone an underrated young player like Jones.

Keeping Motiejunas for $2,288,205 in 2015-16 is a tougher call – and one that will produce ripple effects throughout the roster.

The Rockets have 14 guaranteed contracts plus Patrick Beverley, Kostas Papanikolaou, Josh Powell, Robert Covington, Tarik Black and Akil Mitchell. They must trim their roster to reach the regular-season maximum of 15 players.

I thought Motiejunas was a candidate to go, but the Rockets aren’t going to exercise his option just to waive him. This means, barring an unexpected development between now and month’s end, he’s staying.

Covington and Mitchell each have $150,000 guarantees, but in a roster crunch, the Rockets can eat that money. In fact, they were probably planning on doing so with Mitchell, giving him a guarantee so they can waive him and assign him to their D-League affiliate. Powell and Black are unguaranteed and easy drops.

That leaves 16 players for 15 spots.

Beverley has an unguaranteed salary, but he’s Houston’s starting point guard. He won’t be waived.

Papanikolaou, drafted in 2012, just came over. His salary is unguaranteed until tomorrow, but why would the Rockets sign him now – and why would he sign – if he were going to be waived before the preseason gets underway? His salary ($4,591,066) is indicative of a player who will stick in Houston for at least a season.

That would mean 14 players – all with fully guaranteed contracts – are vying 13 spots.

Dwight Howard and James Harden obviously aren’t going anywhere. As covered, Jones and Motiejunas are in.

So, we’re down to 10 players for nine spots.

Houston signed Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Joey Dorsey, Francisco Garcia, Jeff Adrien, Ish Smith, Troy Daniels and Nick Johnson this offseason. Plans can change on the fly, but obviously the Rockets wouldn’t sign someone to a fully guaranteed contract without an idea of they’d use him in the upcoming season.

And then there were two and one roster spot remaining – Isaiah Canaan and Jason Terry.

Canaan, the No. 34 pick in 2013, played just 22 games as a rookie. However, he impressed in the D-League, averaging 21.8 points and 8.2 assists per game.

Terry, 37, missed most of last season due to injury. The Kings gave Houston draft picks just to take him. The Rockets have probably already gotten their main return in the deal, though Terry could provide leadership and a spark off the bench. But he’s still battling health issues.

The competition between Canaan and Terry is on, but other Rockets could fall into the race with a poor preseason.

Father: Trae Young choosing Klutch not about joining Lakers

Lakers star LeBron James and Hawks star Trae Young
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Hawks star Trae Young switched agencies to Klutch Sports Group. Obviously, that means he’ll leave Atlanta to join fellow Klutch clients LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers.

Right?

Young’s father, Rayford Young, via Chris Kirschner of The Athletic:

He’s never been a follower. This whole thing with Klutch never had anything to do with going to play with the Lakers one day. They have a lot of people on their roster who aren’t with the Lakers.

“I would ask those fans who are fans of Trae or Atlanta fans to just look at his history. He knows this is a team effort, but he wants to have that statue next to Dominique (Wilkins) one day, man. I’ve told you this before, my son is 6-foot-1, but he thinks he’s the best player on the court no matter if LeBron is on the floor with him. Hopefully, it never backfires on him, but he’s got big balls and is very confident. He just knows what he wants to accomplish. I never think my son is going to join a super team unless they all come to Atlanta. He’s just got too much pride to do that. Maybe that pride will backfire, but who knows. My son has seen it happen here in Oklahoma City with (Kevin Durant). He wasn’t one of those who called him a cupcake, but he’s seen the backlash of something like that happen.”

Those are big words.

They don’t sound totally dissimilar from Davis, who insisted hiring Rich Paul didn’t presage leaving the Pelicans. Of course, Davis requested a trade within months and eventually steered his way to the Lakers. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry – who initially said that Davis hiring Paul didn’t signal Davis leavinglater admitted the hiring meant just that.

But a big difference: Unlike Davis, who altered a status quo that included repeatedly stating commitment to New Orleans, Young didn’t chang agents. Young stuck with Omar Wilkes, who switched agencies from Octagon for Klutch. (Kirschner more deeply explores the Wilkes-Young relationship.) While – especially in hindsight, but even at the time – Davis looked like he was at the very least preparing to move on, Young didn’t do anything that major.

Another big difference: Davis was just two years from unrestricted free agency when he went to Klutch. Young can’t unilaterally become an unrestricted free agent until 2023, and that’s only if he takes a one-year qualifying offer instead of a max contract – something nobody in his position has ever done. Far more likely, he’ll be locked into Atlanta through 2026.

At that point, who knows where LeBron (who’ll be 41), Davis (who’ll be 33) and the Lakers will be? Before then, the Lakers are short on trade assets outside LeBron and Davis after surrendering so much for Davis.

But to be fair, who knows how the Hawks will perform over the ensuing years? Young is already a star and showing frustration with a team that hasn’t come close to keeping up with his rapid ascension. Outside the most desirable markets, stars tend to be a little more impatient.

Which makes the Kevin Durant comparison interesting. Durant faced massive backlash for leaving the Thunder. He won multiple championships with the Warriors, but it’s unclear how happy he was in Golden State. How does Young – who’s from Oklahoma – internalize all that?

Ultimately, Young will chart his own course. Comparisons to other stars like Davis and Durant can be useful, but they don’t prove anything. Young’s father talking about his son playing for a super team only in Atlanta will inspire Hawks fans.

And, fairly or not, increase resentment if Young leaves.

Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan: NBA protocols ‘so frustrating and overwhelming’

Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA produced a 113-page manual on health and safety protocols for the league’s resumption at Disney World. The multi-bullet-pointed section on ping pong includes:

No Doubles

Until directed otherwise by the NBA, players should play singles only so that they can maintain six feet of distance from each other.

Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan, via Royce Young of ESPN:

“The ping pong thing is ridiculous. To be honest,” San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said on Thursday. “Guys can’t do this, but we can do this and battle over each other. That part just don’t make no sense to me. I got through 10 lines of the handbook and just put it down because it became so frustrating and overwhelming at times because you just never thought you’d be in a situation of something like this. So it’s hard to process at times.”

DeRozan’s exasperation is completely understandable. The manual is long and full of scientific jargon in addition to rules that seem trivial.

But the NBA’s plan is logical.

Both basketball games and doubles ping pong are generally unsafe during the coronavirus pandemic. The big difference: NBA basketball games produce a lot of money. So, the league and players are willing to risk playing them.

The goal is to isolate players from the outside world and test them frequently, minimizing the chances of them playing basketball with coronavirus. There’s a risk someone gets infected anyway, so limiting opportunities for someone to spread coronavirus – like doubles ping pong or, more importantly, getting close to someone outside the bubble – are being minimized.

Is that enjoyable for players? Heck no. That’s why Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has doubts about players maintaining a strict bubble.

But hopefully, players abide by the rules designed keep them safe… and highly paid. Whether or not they read all 113 pages, participating players are signing up for this.

Second bubble for other eight NBA teams? Not so fast

Warriors star Stephen Curry
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The eight teams teams that didn’t qualify for the NBA’s resumption at Disney World – Knicks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Hornets, Timberwolves and Warriors – are reportedly considering a second bubble in Chicago.

Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports:

K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

A safe operation, like the one at Disney World, comes with two major drawbacks:

1. It’s expensive. Accommodations, frequent coronavirus testing, transporting equipment to the site – it adds up.

2. It’s burdensome for participants. They’ll be separated from family and friends in order to limit coronavirus exposure points.

But the campus in Disney World is happening for one reason: Money. Finishing the season will generate a lot of money for the NBA, especially national-TV money for the playoffs.

Will a second bubble produce enough money to justify its existence? I doubt it. These eight teams are done with meaningful games. Maybe it’s worth fulfilling local TV contracts, but that’s a narrow needle to thread. The product would be lousy.

Players on these eight teams will reportedly receive the same share of salaries as players going to Disney World. If that becomes no longer guaranteed unless reporting to a second bubble, perhaps players would be compelled to go. But it’s hard to see much enthusiasm – especially among impending free agents, who should protect their health. Any notable players with injury concerns, like Golden State star Stephen Curry, would also likely be held out.

Many people within these eight teams want to keep playing. There’s concern about a long layoff and a natural desire to do something to improve. But the continuing 22 teams will have historically short layoffs. Extra rest might be an advantage. It’s a completely unprecedented situation. Nobody knows which group – the 22 teams or the eight teams – will be better-prepared for next season.

Amid that the uncertainty of the benefits – and the very clear and high costs – there’s plenty of reason to doubt a second bubble gets off the ground.

But the plan’s supporters have at least enough momentum to make it a discussion.

Grizzlies’ Ja Morant says he added 12 pounds of muscle, will ‘prove people wrong’ at restart

Ja Morant
oe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ja Morant has taken advantage of the NBA’s hiatus, adding 12 pounds of muscle to help absorb contact when the NBA’s likely rookie of the year fearlessly attacks the basketball.

And the Memphis Grizzlies point guard knows exactly what he wants when he leads his team to Orlando.

“Going out there to win, prove people wrong,” Morant said Thursday in a Zoom video call with reporters.

Morant, the No. 2 pick overall in the 2019 draft, already has taken advantage of Zion Williamson missing much of the season to make his case as the league’s top rookie. Morant is the Grizzlies’ leading scorer averaging 17.6 points in 59 games played compared to just 19 for Williamson with the Pelicans.

With Morant leading the way, the Grizzlies won four of their final six before the NBA stopped play March 12. Memphis goes into Orlando’s seeding games sitting in the eighth spot in the Western Conference with a 3 1/2-game lead trying to clinch the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2017.

Morant, who turns 21 on Aug. 10, didn’t just spend his downtime during the coronavirus shutdown spending time with his family and baby daughter waiting to hear when the NBA would resume play.

Nope, Morant said he worked in the weight room and gym adding the 12 pounds of muscle since a loss to Orlando on March 10. That helped fend off worries that the season – and all the work he had put in – was over.

“I just took it as an opportunity to get even better, even though I didn’t know how it would play out,” Morant said.

The extra pounds not only make Morant stronger, but the guard listed at 6-foot-3 and 174 pounds when play stopped expects he will be able to absorb contact better.

“Able to use my body more, get through different screens,” Morant said. “That’s why I’m just looking to do, go to Orlando to be able to do the things I’ve been doing before but better.”

The added muscle is noticeable, at least to his teammates. Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said a couple Grizzlies were talking about Morant being bigger Wednesday.

“Gaining strength has been a priority of his and continues to maintain his supreme athleticism,” Jenkins said.

Morant went into his rookie season recovering from arthroscopic surgery to clean up his right knee before the 2019 draft. The time off means he has no pain in his knee, which is easy to see when he’s on the floor.

“Feel like I’m actually leaving the floor easier and jumping higher,” Morant said. “I’ve just been taking this time to just focus on my body, make sure everything’s good so when it’s time to go out and play, I’ll be fine.”