What is Donatas Motiejunas doing?
That is the question which Houston Rockets fans and NBA analysts are asking themselves after the power forward refused to undergo a Tuesday physical. Motiejunas’s decision prolongs a free agency battle which has now lasted for over five months, but he has now taken his already poor position and made it worse.
As NBA cap expert Larry Coon points out, Motiejunas could find himself right back where he was before he signed a $37 million contract with the Nets last week – except now the Nets are no longer allowed to acquire him. Given that it took Motiejunas five months to get one contract which he liked, how long will it take him to get another after this sort of drama?
So why is Motiejunas doing this? It is possible that he is just angry at Houston for trying to trade him in February and wants off the team at any cost. But while Motiejunas bears the primary responsibility for his own decisions, we should also at his agent BJ Armstrong. Armstrong stated on Tuesday that “we have our rights” and is talking a big deal about supporting his client. But it is possible that Armstrong is not looking out for Motiejunas at all, but is using him as a sacrificial guinea pig to make a power play.
An agent’s power grab
So what is Armstrong talking about when he mentions “rights?” He is probably referring to the limitations of restricted free agency and how teams can retain players against their will. This exists so that teams actually can reap the rewards of taking the time to develop young players, pay fees for injury lawyers and have them play for the same team in their prime.
More importantly, restricted free agency was agreed to in the last CBA by the team owners and the players. If Motiejunas wants to play in the NBA, he needs to follow the rules of free agency.
BJ Armstrong certainly knows all of this, but he is backing Motiejunas anyways. While it is possible that Armstrong is doing it because he has to support his client, Armstrong could have something to gain from all this.
Let us suppose that for whatever reason, the Rockets choose to cave and let Motiejunas go to another team, perhaps because he is not worth the headache. Then Armstrong would be known as the agent who managed to break restricted free agency and got a client off a team which he did not want to be on. An accomplishment like that would make him a much more appealing agent for other young NBA players who may not care for restricted free agency.
And if this does not work out and Motiejunas ends up worse off, what does Armstrong really lose? Sure, he will not get paid like he would if Motiejunas had undergone his physical. But Armstrong has much better clients like Draymond Green and Derrick Rose, and can just claim that this whole mess was Motiejunas’s fault. Armstrong risks little and could gain a lot if the Rockets cave.
The need to play hardball
Of course, there is no way to know to what degree Armstrong is responsible for this. But if the above theory is correct, that is all the more reason why Daryl Morey and the Rockets need to make it clear that they will hold on to Motiejunas as long as possible until he caves. The Rockets cannot let agents try to break the rules of the CBA.
The Rockets have surpassed expectations with a 14-7 record, and their players and Coach Mike D’Antoni made it clear on Tuesday that while they would like Motiejunas back, he’s not essential. Motiejunas needs Houston far more than Houston needs Motiejunas. The sooner he realizes that and wonders whether Armstrong is really representing his best interests, the sooner he can sign a contract, get on the court, and put this mess away.