December 9, 2016 at 6:42 pm

The Donatas Motiejunas Contract Examined

Donatas Motiejunas contract

On Friday, the Houston Rockets and Donatas Motiejunas agreed to a four-year contract for him to return to Houston. Much has been written over the past several months (and especially over the past couple of weeks) about the protracted negotiations between Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Motiejunas’s agent (BJ Armstrong), so there’s little reason to re-hash that here. This article will focus solely on the terms and salary cap impact of the contract Motiejunas has signed.

Trade Restrictions

Because Motiejunas signed a new contract with the Rockets, rather than the Rockets matching his offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets, the Rockets are not bound by the one-year restriction that would not have allowed them to deal Motiejunas without his consent. Still, the three-month waiting period must expire before the Rockets can trade Motiejunas (as with any newly signed or re-signed free agent). And since that three-month period will not expire until after the February 2017 trade deadline, the Rockets cannot trade Motiejunas until after the season. But the team is now free to trade Motiejunas this June (including in connection with a draft night trade) without his consent. (Also, since Motiejunas signed an offer sheet with the Nets but ended up re-signing with the Rockets, it appears that he cannot be traded to Brooklyn for one year.)

Salary and Incentives

To the extent it is guaranteed (more on that below), Motiejunas will receive a base salary in each year of his deal as follows:

  • 2016-17: $8,300,000
  • 2017-18: $7,926,500
  • 2018-19: $7,553,000
  • 2019-20: $7,179,500
That base salary figure is subject to increase based on certain incentives. Incentives in player contracts are categorized as being either “likely” or “unlikely” to be achieved. For statistical incentives, this is usually based on whether the goal of the incentive was accomplished in the prior season. Each year of Motiejunas’s contract includes the following incentives:

  • A $1,000,000 incentive that was reported as being based on strength and conditioning. According to Marc Spears, Motiejunas can achieve this incentive by getting four body scans each year before the end of the regular season. This incentive is categorized as “likely” and should easily be achieved each season.
  • A $250,000 incentive if Motiejunas’s 3-point percentage exceeds 37% (based on some unknown minimum number of attempts). This incentive is (currently) categorized as “unlikely”.
  • A $250,000 incentive if Motiejunas reaches certain defensive rebounding levels. While those exact levels are not yet known, this incentive is (currently) categorized as “unlikely”.
For purposes of determining the amount that Motiejunas counts against the salary cap, the team must count his base salary plus all (then) “likely” incentives. This means that Motiejunas’s cap hit currently looks like this:

  • 2016-17: $9,300,000
  • 2017-18: $8,926,500
  • 2018-19: $8,553,000
  • 2019-20: $8,179,500
These figures can be adjusted upwards (by up to $500,000, if Motiejunas reaches all of his “unlikely” incentives) or downwards (by $1,000,000, if Motiejunas does not reach any of his “likely” or “unlikely” incentives). For instance, if Motiejunas achieves his “likely” incentives and also shoots better than 37% on three-pointers this season (meeting the minimum number of attempts) but fails to achieve his rebounding incentive, then (1) Motiejunas’s 2016-17 salary would increase to $9,550,000 and (2) Motiejunas’s 2017-18 cap figure would increase to $9,176,500.

Guarantee Dates

Motiejunas’s salary is only partially guaranteed. There are several key guarantee dates throughout the life of the contract. While it has been reported that only $5,000,000 of Motiejunas’s salary is guaranteed on Day 1, for purposes of this article we will assume that he is not waived by early January and (as with every other NBA player contract) his 2016-17 salary will be fully guaranteed.

Gone is the March 1, 2017 guarantee date from the Brooklyn Nets offer sheet for the 2017-18 season. Also gone are the July 7 guarantee dates in 2018 and 2019. In their place is one guarantee date for each of the second, third and fourth years of Motiejunas’s deal: July 15.

Obviously, pushing the 2017-18 guarantee date back all the way from March 1 is a key difference for the Rockets that allows them to more accurately ascertain Motiejunas’s physical condition and skill before a final decision must be made on his second year salary. But don’t sleep on the distinction between the July 7 date and a July 15 guarantee date.

Currently, July 7 falls inside the scheduled July Moratorium for each of the next few years. However, if this past summer’s shortened July Moratorium ends up being used in the new CBA, July 7 could end up being the very first day that teams can go back to “full business” signing players and making trades. Even then, in order to move Motiejunas in a trade that would allow the receiving team to waive him without guaranteeing his salary (let alone allowing the Rockets to conduct any physicals or other diligence on their acquired players) could be a tight squeeze.

Meanwhile, a July 15 guarantee date gives the Rockets more time to survey the free agent landscape and to determine whether they want to open up additional cap space by waiving Motiejunas or trade him for additional assets. That extra week also opens up additional waves of free agency to the Rockets, once the big fish are all snatched up. By that time, the Rockets might be in a position to determine whether they’ll be able to acquire a quality free agent with their Mid-Level Exception (believed to be increasing to $8 million or more), thereby allowing them to keep Motiejunas and operate above the cap. Those extra 8 days in July are a huge benefit for the Rockets’ front office.

Bottom Line

The Houston Rockets have managed to retain a quality seven-footer with a unique skill set on an extraordinarily team-friendly contract and at a very reasonable salary. If Motiejunas can stay healthy and continue to improve in the manner he was prior to his back injury in 2015, that contract could turn into one of best (non-superstar and non-rookie scale) values in the league. Even if Motiejunas can never regain his prior level of play and is beset by further injuries, the Rockets will be able to move on from his contract with minimal long-term consequence. A lot can be said about how Motiejunas and the Rockets got to this point, but moving forward, the Rockets look like they’re in great shape.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 5, 2016 at 4:01 pm

Rockets keep Donatas Motiejunas after matching Nets’ offer sheet

Donatas Motiejunas returning to Houston Rockets
Donatas Motiejunas is returning to the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets have opted to match the four-year, $37 million offer sheet Motiejunas signed with the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, which started the three-day clock for the Rockets to decide whether to keep the restricted free agent.

David Weiner put together an excellent breakdown of D-Mo’s contract based on what we know of the deal. The contract is flexible. The final two years of the deal are non-guaranteed. The Rockets could also bow out of the deal before next season if they choose to do so later this season (by March 1, 2017).

However, there are some inflexibilities. The Rockets can not deal Motiejunas before this year’s trade deadline given that is less than three months away. They also can not trade him without his consent until December of 2017. That could hinder the team’s summer flexibility a bit.

It will be interesting to see where Mike D’Antoni uses Motiejunas given that he has been getting good minutes from Nene, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell, the three players that figure to lose some time in the rotation to make room for D-Mo. I expect him to be used at the four and as a smallball center.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
November 2, 2016 at 12:55 pm

Rockets release 50th Anniversary Team History Book

Houston Rockets 50th Anniversary Team History Book

I’ve been anticipating this for awhile. The Houston Rockets have released their new 50th Anniversary coffee table book that covers the history of Houston’s basketball franchise.

Our good friend Jeff Balke wrote several of the articles found in the book, entitled Celebrating 50 Seasons: The Official History of the Houston Rockets. Jeff would text me every so often during the writing process to say, “I just had lunch with Tracy McGrady!” or “Robert Horry just called me!” — so I’ve really been riding the fantasy and looking forward to seeing the finished product.

And that’s what this book does for Rockets fans — it geeks them straight out. In a nutshell, this thing is awesome. It covers everything from the team’s inception to the Twin Towers to Clutch City to today’s Harden-led Rocket squads.

The book is full of interesting stories, but there are also hundreds of photographs and some of them are just bananas. You’ll find a shot of Rick Adelman in a facemask as a Rocket in 1968 looking an awful lot like Hannibal Lecter, coaching legend Pat Riley in his playing days with the franchise and a rare, candid shot of Moses Malone after re-signing with the Rockets in 1979. There’s even a full-page picture of Joe Barry Carroll, folks. It’s that thorough.

The book contains spotlight profiles on Moses, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming, among others. The stories are entertaining, like this excerpt about the 1995 Western Conference Finals when Olajuwon dominated regular season MVP David Robinson. Rudy Tomjanovich said he wondered how Olajuwon felt watching Robinson get the MVP trophy after Hakeem won it in 1994 and that “we found out very quickly” by how he played. But the greatest Rocket ever denied it.

Olajuwon swears it has nothing to do with an MVP trophy but instead was in response to the skill of his competitor. “You had to get him off balance, come up with a counter and a counter just to get a shot off,” he said of Robinson. “He forced my creativity to the highest level.”

His teammates didn’t buy it. “I love Dream,” Horry said, “but Dream is lying.”

The book retails for $50 and is currently available exclusively at The Rockets Shop at Toyota Center in the month of November. Starting in December, it will be available in book stores.

Photos from the book

Elvin Hayes, Rick Adelman, Pat Riley and the 1968-69 San Diego Rockets
Rick Adelman Pat Riley Elvin Hayes San Diego Rockets

Table of Contents
Houston Rockets 50th Anniversary Book - Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler

“Akeem” Olajuwon
Houston Rockets 50th Anniversary Book - Akeem Olajuwon

Tracy McGrady 13 in 33
Houston Rockets 50th Anniversary Book - Tracy McGrady Yao Ming

Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley
Houston Rockets 50th Anniversary Book - Steve Francis Cuttino Mobley

Posted in Houston Rockets |
October 23, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Are the 2016-17 Houston Rockets a 50-win team?

Eric Gordon James Harden Ryan Anderson Houston Rockets

Ready or not, the Houston Rockets are set to open the 2016-17 NBA season this Wednesday when they face the Lakers in Los Angeles.

David Weiner, aka BimaThug, joins the podcast as we talk about what we expect from the Rockets this season. We discuss the offseason and preseason, the Donatas Motiejunas situation and what do Daryl Morey and the Rockets’ front office do next?

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |
September 26, 2016 at 2:18 pm

James Harden is the Rockets’ point guard, but hasn’t he always been?

Mike D'Antoni and James Harden

On Monday after practice, new Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni got some headlines when he acknowledged the fact that James Harden is his point guard.

“He’s more or less going to be responsible for giving rhythm to the team — that’s what a point guard does,” D’Antoni said. “He’s going to be on the ball and he’s going to be distributing the ball. So it will take some adjusting. He’s got a lot more responsibilities as a point guard. He’s a good basketball mind. He’s already telling guys, ‘We can do this, we can do that’ so he’s great.”

While the Internet is lighting up with this “change”, it’s really the role Harden has played for years here in Houston. Patrick Beverley’s job has always been to defend, hit spot up shots and take care of the ball. Harden has been the drive and dish playmaker of the team.

Both the coach and player acknowledged that not much is different.

D’Antoni, who chose the title of “points guard” for Harden, said “very little” has changed about Harden’s role. He said 80% of this he was doing anyway.

When asked how this is different for him, Harden said, “It’s not.”

What is different about this training camp is that the Rockets are not shying away from it and are embracing it. Last year, with the addition of Ty Lawson, the Rockets talked about Harden playing off the ball and letting Lawson run the show — a plan that never got off the ground.

By embracing it, D’Antoni is saying Harden will have the ball right from the outlet pass.

“He doesn’t have to wrestle (now) with people trying to get the ball. He’s got it right from the get go,” said D’Antoni. “He doesn’t spend all the energy down there in a wrestling match with people trying to hold him, denying him and all that. There will be times where he’s off and Pat (Beverley) does it. We’ll find a happy medium between the two. But right now, he’s directing traffic.”

Here are the full interviews after practice with both D’Antoni and Harden.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
September 22, 2016 at 2:39 pm

Rockets trade Michael Beasley to Bucks for Tyler Ennis

Rockets trade Michael Beasley for Tyler Ennis

We thought a trade might be coming before training camp opened, but leave it to the Rockets to wait until the last day.

On the eve of Media Day at Toyota Center, the Rockets have made a trade, sending forward Michael Beasley to the Milwaukee Bucks for third-year point guard Tyler Ennis. The deal was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

The Bucks recently lost Khris Middleton to a torn hamstring while the Rockets need some depth at the point guard spot, so the deal may be beneficial here for both teams.

Beasley can score in a hurry, so it’s a surprise that new coach Mike D’Antoni would look to move him, but with new stretch four Ryan Anderson signed and Donatas Motiejunas likely to return, the Rockets had a surplus at the position. Beasley also will be a free agent in 2017.

Ennis is interesting. He’s a former first round pick (18th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft) of the Phoenix Suns who was traded to Milwaukee in the Brandon Knight/Michael Carter-Williams trade in February of 2015. He hasn’t done much in the league in his first two seasons, but he’s very young (just turned 22) and was touted as a pure point guard coming out of Syracuse.

The Rockets point out that in the final 18 games of the 2015-16 season, Ennis hit 48.3% from the floor while posting 7.6 points, 3.7 assists and 2.8 rebounds in just under 24 minutes a night. He is not careless with the ball and runs a strong pick-and-roll, which no doubt was attractive to the Rockets given how important that is to a D’Antoni squad.

Daryl Morey and company have done this type of move before, acquiring a young point guard who was stashed on the bench when Houston landed Kyle Lowry in 2009 for Rafer Alston. That’s not to say Ennis is a future Lowry, but there is some upside here given that Ennis could see opportunity in Houston.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
September 9, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Jeff Van Gundy thinks Rockets will be an offensive juggernaut

Jeff Van Gundy Houston Rockets Coach

After a season of mediocre .500 ball and a handful of changes this offseason, the Houston Rockets are tough to project for 2016-17.

Not for Jeff Van Gundy. The former Houston coach thinks this new Rockets squad will be extremely strong on one side of the ball.

“Defensively, they’re going to be challenged,” said Van Gundy. “But offensively, they’re an absolute juggernaut.”

Van Gundy spoke with Adam Clanton of SportsTalk 790 on Friday to discuss Yao Ming as he’s set to go into the Hall of Fame this weekend, taking time to talk about this year’s Rockets as well.

Calling new coach Mike D’Antoni a “home run hire”, Van Gundy thinks the Rockets will win 50 games.

“I think they’re going to be impossible to guard,” said Van Gundy. “The only issue is the guys they signed are talented, talented offensive players and shooters, but can they hold up? Nene to me is a great value signing, a very low contract and a very productive player. (Ryan) Anderson and (Eric) Gordon have had multiple injuries these past few years. If they can stay healthy, I think they’re a 50-win team.”

Van Gundy also said he “chuckles” all the time at the criticism of James Harden, who he calls an “absolute elite player.”

“I never heard this criticism of Steve Nash,” said Van Gundy. “No one was talking about his defense. They were talking about what a great offensive talent he was.”

It’s an excellent interview and you can listen to it in its entirety here.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
August 17, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Bill Worrell planning retirement, Craig Ackerman to take over road TV duties

Bill Worrell Houston Rockets

Longtime Rockets broadcaster Bill Worrell is planning his retirement, a source informed ClutchFans today.

Worrell plans to retire after this coming season, though there is a slim possibility that he will remain for two more years. However, the transition is underway. The Rockets are currently planning some broadcast changes as a result, with Worrell doing the play-by-play for Root Sports on just the home games this season.

The current plan is for Rockets radio voice Craig Ackerman to take over Worrell’s television broadcaster role for road games. Ackerman should do a terrific job as he’s passionate about the team and his playcalling. You can see his voice/calls synced to video here from the Rockets Game 6 comeback against the Clippers in the 2015 West semifinals.

As for who will do the radio call, SportsTalk 790’s Matt Thomas will fill in for Ackerman on the radio play-by-play for road games.

That’s not the only role Thomas will play this season. ClutchFans has learned that Thomas will take over the public address announcer duties at Toyota Center, replacing John Paul Stevenson, who has been in that role since 2006. Stevenson will remain with the organization.

Thomas was the PA announcer at The Summit for the Rockets during the championship seasons of 1994 and 1995. The Rockets are preparing for their 50th anniversary season so the move coincides with that direction. Thomas does a great job and should bring back some nostalgia as well, but it’s a shock they would replace Stevenson, who has been very strong for 10 seasons.

As for Worrell, he is a Houston treasure, having been a fixture in our city for over 30 years. He has been broadcasting Houston Rockets games since 1983, then with Home Sports Entertainment (HSE). He also covered the Houston Astros from 1985 to 2004.

Posted in Houston Rockets |