The Houston Rockets have matched the $37 million contract that Donatas Motiejunas signed with the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, meaning the Rockets will retain the 26-year-old big man months after free agency began, per The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Brooklyn Nets had signed the restricted free agent to a four-year, $37 million offer sheet, according to The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears, one week after the Rockets and Motiejunas failed yet again to reach a contract agreement.
While the Rockets are 13-7 this season and already have a clear rotation set, matching Motiejunas still made sense. The Brooklyn offer sheet only had $5 million guaranteed, per Spears, and if the Rockets didn’t match the offer, they would be letting a talented player walk for nothing in return. You can reasonably expect Motiejunas to take minutes away from Nene and Montrezl Harrell, and for the Rockets to be better because of it.
Last Wednesday — Nov. 24 — was the last day this season a team could sign a player they could still trade by the Feb. 23 deadline. Houston had set an internal deadline to sign him by then, but talks never progressed past where they had been before the season.
Motiejunas was still a restricted free agent after opting to let the Rockets’ $4.4 million qualifying offer expire on Oct. 1, essentially holding out for a better deal. ESPN.com reported Houston’s latest offer was a multi-year contract starting at $7 million per year, “with attainable incentives that could take it to $8 million,” but that offer was reportedly taken off the table on Nov. 24.
It’s unusual for a player to remain a free agent this long into the season due to a contract dispute. Both Motiejunas and the Rockets refused to budge, even five months after free agency began. If Motiejunas had signed overseas, his rights would have remained with the Rockets.
Houston attempted to deal Motiejunas, alongside Marcus Thornton, at last season’s trade deadline to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Detroit’s 2016 first-round pick (top-eight protected) and center Joel Anthony. But Pistons president Stan Van Gundy nixed the deal when Motiejunas failed his physical due to back problems.
The 26-year-old Lithuanian big man has been a serviceable stretch four when healthy. In 71 games, including 62 starts for the Rockets in the 2014-15 season, Motiejunas averaged 12 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 36.8 percent shooting from downtown.
But Houston’s shooter has rarely been healthy, playing in just 214 of 328 possible games in his four-year NBA career.
Brooklyn could have used Motiejunas’ shooting as a way to space the floor along with center Brook Lopez, who has emerged as a three-point threat this season. He would join a Nets big man rotation that is shooting a combined 36.4 percent from downtown. But instead, the Rockets have opted to keep him around.
Motiejunas appeared in just 37 games for the Rockets last season. He averaged 6.2 points on 28 percent shooting from downtown.