The Houston Rockets thought they had traded forward Donatas Motiejunas to the Detroit Pistons, but Detroit voided the deal Feb. 22 because of concerns over the Lithuanian’s back. Now, the NBA Players Association is reportedly getting involved.
Citing league sources, Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports reported that the NBPA “is strongly considering filing a grievance with the NBA” following Detroit’s decision to void the deal. “Sources close to Motiejunas believe the voided trade could damage his status as a restricted free agent next offseason,” Spears added.
Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com reported the trade initially sent Motiejunas and guard Marcus Thornton to Detroit and a 2016 first-round pick and center Joel Anthony to Houston. The Rockets then sent Anthony and a future second-round pick (via the Denver Nuggets) to the rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers and received Chukwudiebere Maduabum in return.
However, Detroit’s decision to void the trade after Motiejunas apparently failed his medical examinations on his back that required surgery in April also wiped out the subsequent deal.
While Motiejunas had not played since Dec. 31 at the time of the trade because of a sore back, Spears said he has been medically cleared since the Pistons voided the deal. What’s more, he even played in each of Houston’s last five games.
Spears passed along Motiejunas’ comments he made regarding the situation to Basketnews.Lt in Lithuania:
The team doctor simply says whether you pass or don't, although they may not do any checks. Those 48 hours actually just let the team decide whether they want you or not. The Pistons announced I did not pass the medical, although I surely did pass it and played even before it. I just got screwed. The injury was a pretense to call of the trade. They changed their minds.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy seemed to show some sympathy for Motiejunas but also looked at things from a risk-reward analysis for his team, per Brendan Savage of MLive.com:
We went through a very thorough process and we made the decision we made for the reasons that we thought it was too much risk.
Look, I feel bad for him, too, because I understand his points in terms of his value and everything else. But we felt we had to make the decision we made.
Spears noted the forward’s representatives thought Van Gundy “should not have spoken publicly about their client’s medical situation.”
Despite the drama surrounding the forward, he has been a solid contributor since returning to Houston’s rotation:
|Donatas Motiejunas' Stats Since Return|
|Feb. 27||San Antonio Spurs||9||2||1|
|Feb. 29||Milwaukee Bucks||19||6||5|
|March 2||New Orleans Pelicans||22||7||3|
|March 5||Chicago Bulls||14||6||3|
|March 6||Toronto Raptors||20||4||4|
Considering Motiejunas averaged 12 points and 5.9 boards a night during the 2014-15 campaign, Houston fans are likely relieved to see him returning to his productive ways for a team in need of some victories.
While failed medical reports could be a red flag that hovers over the forward when he potentially hits the market down the line, he does have an opportunity to quell those concerns in the coming weeks for a squad in postseason contention. He even started the past three contests against the New Orleans Pelicans, Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors.
He has also been a solid defensive player in a small 19-game sample size. According to NBA.com, Motiejunas was holding opponents to 1.5 percent worse shooting than their normal field-goal percentage as of Sunday.
Houston is 31-32 and in the No. 8 and final spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. It holds a tenuous 1.5 game lead over the Utah Jazz but should also have an eye on surpassing the Portland Trail Blazers (1.5 games ahead of the Rockets) to avoid a first-round matchup with the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
The Rockets made the Western Conference Finals a season ago and have enough talent on the roster to merit the 31-32 mark a disappointment. However, Motiejunas is back in the rotation, and the team has won two of three with him in the starting lineup.
If he continues to provide respectable defense and rebounding support, he will have the chance to prove to teams in the postseason he is more than just a health concern.