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We Are All Donatas Motiejunas – Part 1

NOTE: Despite being the data guy, there is no statistical analysis in this post. Once in a while, I, like everyone else, am allowed to form an opinion that is unsubstantiated by data. And now I’m going to shout that opinion through a megaphone to convince the internet that it is correct.

Last year I found myself in an employment situation that could be politely described as shitastic. My workplace was small, about ten people, two of whom were bosses. Because my office was my office, otherwise merely bad situations became apocalyptic ones. I’ll spare everyone the gory details, but I do want to share one anecdote from those dark days.

Before the start of a big office project, one of our bosses declared publicly that there were two types of people in the office, “visionaries and worker bees.” He then identified himself, the other boss, and two others as visionaries, and the rest of us as worker bees. Then he told us to submit ideas for the project.

Unsurprisingly, all contributions from the four visionaries made it into the project and all contributions from the worker bees did not. While everyone knew that not all suggestions could be included in the project, explanations for exclusion were never provided. Everyone was then required to work on only the ideas that made it. We non-chosen ones were given tasks like examining margins and punching holes. And even then our marching orders often duplicated each other’s, because it was inconvenient to them that we were there, like we were mouths to feed instead of contributing members of a team.

Four people were invited to the budget meetings for the project. You can use your imagination to determine which four. One day, a budget meeting was called at 5 PM. Since we had nothing to do, the rest of us went to happy hour. The next day, we were scolded for leaving while the chosen four were still working. One boss was particularly appalled that we had not brought them anything from our outing.

After we finished the project, we had a meeting to review how everything went. One boss said that his goal was to create a feeling of ownership, so everyone felt like this project was theirs. Right then, I knew that I felt no ownership over what we did. I put in the time (save the fateful happy hour), went through the motions, met all my deadlines, but could not have cared less about what we produced.

At this young stage of the season with a squad full of young players, I personally do not believe that everyone on the Rockets feels ownership over the team’s product. I have this opinion because of anecdotal evidence that I’ve witnessed and am now choosing to cherry pick.

A few weeks ago, I wrote in a 5-on-5 about a curious incident in which Aaron Brooks refused to pass to Harden at the end of a close game. This came after Harden went into heroball mode, again. There are several incidents (sorry I’m not going to go back through Game Pass to make video, you’ll just have to take my word for it) of players haphazardly jogging to the corner, standing around for fifteen seconds, then sulking in frustration. Some players are better at hiding it (Beverley, Motiejunas). Some are not (Lin, Brooks).

Those players are in dangerous territory. Like I did, they’re putting in the time and going through the motions, but they feel less and less like part of the team. Though they won’t admit it, they’re becoming less interested in the product on the floor because they don’t feel like they’re contributing to that product. They don’t feel like their roles are valued. They think their role is just to run around until the more important guy isn’t tired any more.

These feelings are bubbling to the surface, from both “sides” of the team. Asik has been on the permanent trade block and seems disinterested in everything. Motiejunas has asked for a trade. Lin and Francisco Garcia have been mentioned as trade pieces. Every time this happens, the blogosphere asks who can the Rockets get who would fit well? My answer has always been nobody, because these are all pretty good players. The Rockets just can’t make them happy. It’s not about any single player’s fit with the Rockets, it’s about how the Rockets fit their players together.

There are nice guys on the Rockets. From what I can tell, they like each other, hang out together, joke with each other. But having fun with each other is different from feeling ownership over a collective product. After all, I had a great time at happy hour with those guys from my former work team, though our camaraderie didn’t help us gain any professional ownership over anything.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s getting better.

Click for Part 2.

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About the author: Richard Li is an independent researcher and consultant. He likes numbers and pictures.

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