Why the Houston Rockets need Donatas Motiejunas

Power forward Donatas Motiejunas continues to be in a weird limbo. On Friday, the Houston Rockets reportedly offered him a multi-year contract which could see Motiejunas earn up to $8 million per year for multiple years. But Motiejunas has not accepted any contract with the Rockets and is continuing to hold out for more.

The Rockets are understandably leery of committing big dollars to Motiejunas. Last year, Motiejunas failed a physical which would have sent him to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for a first-round draft pick. He played just 37 games, and was not great even when healthy. As Motiejunas is already 26, the Rockets should also wonder how much further he can really develop his game.

But the Rockets need Motiejunas and Motiejunas needs the Rockets. While most Rockets fan may get excited at the idea of bringing back Motiejunas for his deft skill in the post, the Rockets need him for a different reason. Motiejunas’s defense, not offense, is why he would be such a huge boost for this team.

The Interior D problem

The Houston Rockets have played six games as of the time of this writing and the results have more or less been what everyone predicted at the start of the season. They are one of the most devastating offensive teams in the league as Harden racks up absurd assist numbers and Eric Gordon has been surprisingly effective. And they are one of the worst defensive teams in the league.

It is all too easy to dismiss Houston’s defense by saying “D’Antoni ball”, but doing that misunderstands the Rockets and Coach Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns were never the greatest defensive teams, but a lot of that was due to the team’s roster. Those Suns never got a good defensive big aside from an old Kurt Thomas and a young Robin Lopez. Amar’e Stoudemire was as awful defensively as he was fantastic offensively and Phoenix Shaq was little better on that end. The Suns could have been even more devastating had they managed to shore up their interior defense with a player like Tyson Chandler.

The Rockets also suffer from this lack of interior defense. Houston placed high hopes on making Clint Capela their starter, but the thin Capela was overpowered by Timofey Mozgov in Houston’s loss to the Lakers and Dwight Howard in their recent loss to Atlanta. Howard was too strong, finishing with 20 points on 8-10 shooting and 14 rebounds. Montrezl Harrell and Nene help to some degree, but Houston needs more interior protection.

Motiejunas’s defense

Motiejunas is no defensive wunderkind, but even an average interior big would do a huge amount to help the Rockets. As a reasonably quick 7-footer, Motiejunas can switch against the screen and do an acceptable job defending guards. He is faster than Nene, has greater courter awareness than Harrell, and can give fill in for Capela in the case of foul trouble or injury.

While Motiejunas may not like what the Rockets are offering him, it would be in his best interest to accept. There are teams which have the cap space to offer a Motiejunas a bigger contract than Houston’s offer, but none have chosen to do so nor will they now. And while Motiejunas could return to Europe, even $8 million would be much more than the biggest salaries in European basketball.

The NBA is a business, but part of a business means coming to a deal acceptable to all sides. Houston’s offer to Motiejunas is more than he could make elsewhere, and the Rockets need Motiejunas both for his defensive ability and post skills. The sooner this holdout comes to an end, the better off both sides will be.