In a strange twist, Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas skipped a mandatory physical on Tuesday in what appears to be a protest move.
The 26-year-old recently signed a four-year, $37 million contract from the Brooklyn Nets, but the Rockets matched it, as he was a restricted free agent, keeping him on the team.
Motiejunas, who had back surgery in April and failed a physical after being traded to the Detroit Pistons last year because of back problems, was supposed to show up to the Rockets for a physical after they matched his offer sheet.
Instead, Motiejunas was a no-show. His agent, B.J. Armstrong, somewhat vaguely, told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, “We have our rights. We’re not going to show up. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see what the Rockets do.” It is unclear if Armstrong was referring to Motiejunas’ Bird rights, which the Rockets currently own, thus allowing them to match offers Motiejunas receives.
It’s unclear where the situation goes from here. According to ESPN’s Calvin Watkins, the Rockets can keep the offer sheet open, meaning they wait for Motiejunas to report, or they can pull the offer sheet, making Motiejunas a restricted free agent again.
Motiejunas had lingered on the free-agent market for months before receiving the Nets’ offer, which contained very little guaranteed money. Despite passing a physical for the Nets, teams have been scared off by Motiejunas’ injury history. If the Rockets were to pull the offer sheet, other teams may still be hesitant to offer Motiejunas a contract. If the Rockets do pull the offer, Motiejunas cannot sign with the Nets for one year.
According to Feigen, if the Rockets keep Motiejunas, he will not be paid until he reports.
It’s a tricky situation for both sides. The 7-foot Motiejunas has a unique blend of skills, with the ability to stretch the floor, post up, make plays from the post, and defend. However, with his injury history, he doesn’t appear to be on many teams’ radars.
Motiejunas may be gambling that by not reporting, the Rockets will decide he is not worth the trouble and relinquish his rights. However, as Larry Coon of the CBA FAQ notes, Motiejunas is under a favourable contract for the Rockets. They don’t have to pay him if he doesn’t report, and there’s little reason for them to be “strong-armed” into relinquishing him or signing him to a more player-friendly contract.
Ultimately, it may be an ugly situation that plays out for both sides.
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