Negotiations between the Houston Rockets and Donatas Motiejunas have hit another impasse that leaves the restricted free-agent big man with an uncertain future in Houston, according to league sources.
Sources told ESPN.com that the Rockets pulled their most recent offer to Motiejunas on Tuesday night, deciding that they had kept it on the table long enough without being able to come to terms with the Lithuanian forward.
Motiejunas, meanwhile, is “surprised and upset” that no deal has been struck nearly five months after free agency began, sources said.
ESPN.com reported in early November that the Rockets had unofficially established Nov. 23 as their own internal deadline to have Motiejunas signed. That’s because Wednesday was the last day players could be signed this season and remain eligible to be dealt on the league’s annual trade-deadline day, which falls on Feb. 23 on the 2016-17 calendar.
Sources told ESPN.com on Nov. 4 that the Rockets were offering a two-year deal starting in the $7 million range but with only the first season fully guaranteed. One source said Wednesday that the Rockets — assuming talks are ultimately revived — would likely reduce their pitch by at least $1 million in Year 1.
Sources said Motiejunas’ camp, convinced that the Rockets have undervalued him, has been trying to drum up interest in his client from the handful of teams around the league that possess the cap space to present a representative offer sheet. Houston, though, holds the right to match any NBA offer the 7-foot, 223-pounder receives.
If Motiejunas elects to play in a foreign league this season, he would remain a restricted free agent, which would continue to give Houston right of first refusal to match any NBA offer Motiejunas gets.
Motiejunas could have made himself an unrestricted free agent next summer had he been willing to play out this season on Houston’s $4.4 million qualifying offer, but he let the qualifier expire Oct. 1, hopeful that a long-term deal would eventually materialize.
The Rockets have been unwilling to guarantee more than the first year of a multiyear deal in a nod to the 26-year-old’s injury history. Houston traded Motiejunas to Detroit in February, only for the Pistons to void the deal and send him back to the Rockets because of a failed physical stemming from Motiejunas’ back troubles.
“You always move on; we’re not waiting for him,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said Wednesday night. “You try to develop guys and develop roles and we are doing that.”
“At the same time, he’s that good where if things change, we’ll welcome him in and see what happens,” D’Antoni added. “But again, this is a time that he has to get good with himself, because it is a business and the organization is a business.
“Players have to do what they think is best for them.”
The Rockets are off to a 9-6 start and have weathered Motiejunas’ absence, thanks to the strong contribution they’re getting from young forwards Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell.