Report: Rockets make push to sign Donatas Motiejunas, see Thanksgiving as deadline

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Donatas Motiejunas, on paper, should be the kind of big man who thrives in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Two seasons ago he shot 36.8 percent from three and you have to respect him from the midrange, if teams scramble in transition and he is guarded by a much smaller guy he can make them pay in the post, and defense isn’t a huge focus. He could be a nice reserve big in Houston.

He’s also a restricted free agent coming off a season where he played in just 37 games due to back issues that led to surgery. How much do you pay a man like that?

The Rockets have their number, and it’s around the league average at $7 million (more with incentives). Other teams with cap space have not even stepped in with an offer sheet to force the Rockets to choose. Motiejunas and his agent think he deserves much more, let the Rockets $4.4 million qualifying offer expire, and are sitting out the season to this point. The Rockets have made a push to sign him this month, but see today (Nov. 23) as the deadline due to the trade deadline, something Marc Stein of ESPN reported on a while ago.

Nov. 23 is the date of particular significance, sparked by the fact Motiejunas can’t be traded this season if he’s signed after that date, which could possibly lower his value with potential outside suitors as well….

Sources told ESPN on Friday that the Rockets’ latest offer is a multiyear deal that starts at $7 million annually, with attainable incentives that could take it to $8 million.

The Rockets are presently unwilling to fully guarantee more than the first season in a new contract, sources say, in a nod to the back injury that scuttled Houston’s trade with Detroit in February that briefly made Motiejunas a Piston until the deal was voided due to a failed physical.

For the record, there are teams out there with the cap space to come in and make a larger offer that would force Houston to match or let Motiejunas walk — Philadelphia, Denver, Brooklyn, Utah, Phoenix and Minnesota. However, none of those landing spots make much sense (for example, the Sixers and Nuggets don’t need another big to cram into their already crowded frontcourt rotations). If it’s about the money, Motiejunas isn’t going to play overseas where he would get less than a third of what Houston already has on the table.

Restricted free agency can suck for players who feel undervalued. Motiejunas clearly believes he is worth more. But he’s also a guy in a profession where he has a limited number of years he can earn ridiculously large paychecks, and right now he is missing those checks on this principle. We’ll see if that changes by the end of the day.