A new start for Donatas Motiejunas

After last night’s victory, Kevin McHale stated that he opted to keep Dwight Howard on the bench late in the game because his back had stiffened up.  I had been tweeting during the game’s closing minutes that it was a great coaching move on the part of McHale to stick with Motiejunas down the stretch.  It’s anyone’s guess whether McHale’s stated reason was true.  However, considering that he kept Terrence Jones–who had been beasting up until the fourth quarter–on the bench as well, closing out with Casspi and Motiejunas inside, I suspect McHale’s statement regarding Dwight was given to avoid controversy and that his true intentions were to reward Motiejunas.  If I’m right on that, I love it.  Either way, I love what happened.

As we are all too familiar, Motiejunas is a player who desperately needed something to go right for him this year.  After some nice flashes offensively last season, he’s been chained to the bench since after appearing at times like the worst interior defender in the entire league.  A game like last night is exactly what D-Mo needed to prove to himself that he is capable of playing defense in this league.  He battled Zach Randolph, one of the most physical power forwards in basketball, and survived.  It wasn’t pretty, Z-Bo had his way on a few occasions, and D-Mo took some shots (including an elbow to the throat), but his limbs are still in tact and he’s still alive and standing.  Experiences like that are what cause a player to reflect back and build confidence.  Hopefully Motiejunas now understands the level of physicality he must bring to earn playing time.  And now he knows he’s capable.  Had McHale just pulled him after the Dwight danger had passed (Howard was on the bench due to foul trouble), there wouldn’t have been much to draw upon.  But the former Celtic great left D-Mo in until the very end.  It was a risky move that could have cost the team the game.  But its the type of move that Gregg Poppovich would have made, sacrificing a bit in the present for the sake of the future.  Maybe its a sign that McHale is settling in?

The question now pertains to Motiejunas’ future.  Howard and Terrence Jones are entrenched as the starters, hell, maybe even for the next three years the way Jones is looking.  And Greg Smith and Casspi remain ahead of Motiejunas in the rotation.  But Casspi has slipped a bit of late and Smith does not provide the versatility on offense that Motiejunas, in theory, would.  There also is Asik who is possibly the best backup big man in the entire league.

Unless he completely bombs, Casspi isn’t coming out of the rotation.  He provides far too much floor spacing with his ability to put the ball on the floor.  But Smith and Asik, for the time being, are injured.  When Asik eventually returns, I could potentially see McHale not playing him simply out of disgust.  But Smith is a far more proven contributor than Motiejunas; this short period while Smith is out might be Motiejunas’ last chance.  Despite the blue skies sunshine from the first two paragraphs of this post, a big part of me wants to say that last night was probably D-Mo’s last significant moment in Houston and that Smith/Asik will return soon and reclaim their spots.  But you never know.  It always starts small, like Terrence Jones’ inspired play in the second half against the Raptors, the game which eventually thrust him into the starting lineup.  D-Mo is going to get another shot, for at least five minutes, on Saturday night against the Pelicans.  He needs to bring that same intensity and physicality from last night.

If Motiejunas plays well on defense, he’s going to have an edge over the other players just simply because he’s so gifted on offense.  It’s an interesting situation.  Dwight Howard is the best big man in the league and Omer Asik is a top-5 defensive center.  Jones looks as good as any high-lottery stud.  And even Greg Smith is no slouch – a young big with great hands and body control.  The Rockets have an embarrassment of riches inside, talent-wise; there are no stiffs on this roster.  If they can all show value, not only will it obviously help the team on the floor, but it will provide flexibility in trades to fill other needs.  The challenge of course is getting each player enough time to drive up that value.  For Motiejunas, that last opportunity is right now, due to the injuries.

I really want Motiejunas to succeed.  For as horrendous as he’s been defensively, there’s no doubt he’s tantalizing on offense.  While he’s struggled to put it together, he has post moves and a smooth touch.  Being able to bring him off the bench to spread the floor would be a great boon when the team wants a different look.  But can he survive defensively?  As I’ve said for some time, a ‘title contender’ just simply cannot afford weak interior defense.  I’m pessimistic about Motiejunas’ chances at cracking the rotation, but I’m hoping more than anyone else that it works out for him.

View this discussion from the forum.

This entry was posted in essays and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
Login to leave a comment.
Total comments: 14
  • Steven says 3 months ago

    With Morey you never can tell, but in 2015 the Rockets could potentially have close to max cap available, while still retaining Parsons Bird rights. It would be an easy way to sign the best player available while having a free ride jumping $10M over the cap to keep Parsons.

    If Parsons option is picked up, he will probably be traded next year. I'd rather not pick up his option, let him hit restricted FA, then match whatever contract he gets on the open market. If the number is more then the Rockets wanna spend, then you force that team to pay a king's ransom for a sign-and-trade. Not my favorite option, but better then losing Parsons for nothing.
  • NorEastern says 3 months ago

    Parsons is unrestricted Summer 2015
    -------in my opinion, the Rockets can't afford to wait until then as it will almost certainly be too late then.

    With Morey you never can tell, but in 2015 the Rockets could potentially have close to max cap available, while still retaining Parsons Bird rights. It would be an easy way to sign the best player available while having a free ride jumping $10M over the cap to keep Parsons.

  • feelingsupersonic says 3 months ago Good piece Rahat, enjoyed reading this. I like that you brought up the physical dimension. I really thought the Rockets would have gained a reputation for more physical play with amount of big bodies and fouls to give but for whatever reasons that hasn't been the case. Practice is probably helping Motiejunas and there should be a few more in the next month or two as the schedule eases up abit. I hope he takes advantage of it and earns more playing time as well as trust from the coaching staff.



    One experimental line-up I'd like to see in action is D-MO at PF, Dwight at C, and T-Jones at SF. It would be the sort of lineup you might use when resting Parsons, who is playing 40+ minutes a game these days. It is big, it spaces the floor, and it makes the best use of T-Jones ball-handling ability. Jones might be a tad slow at SF, but his length should compensate at least a little bit.





    This would be an interesting lineup versus certain teams in particular. I imagine that frontcourt with Harden and Parsons at the wings against Miami, that could be something.
  • rocketrick says 3 months ago

    And this is the reason that I believe that the king of bro'ness, Parsons, will be resigned in the summer of 2015. Glue guy. I mean, who on the Rockets would you want to spend a night with bar hopping? Cheer leaders are not eligible.


    Parsons is unrestricted Summer 2015
    -------in my opinion, the Rockets can't afford to wait until then as it will almost certainly be too late then.
  • Johnny Rocket says 3 months ago

    One experimental line-up I'd like to see in action is D-MO at PF, Dwight at C, and T-Jones at SF. It would be the sort of lineup you might use when resting Parsons, who is playing 40+ minutes a game these days. It is big, it spaces the floor, and it makes the best use of T-Jones ball-handling ability. Jones might be a tad slow at SF, but his length should compensate at least a little bit.

  • txtdo1411 says 3 months ago

    If Parsons is the glue guy for the starting line-up, Lin is the glue guy for the bench and the D-League players because he always texting them and making sure they feel comfortable.

    I was unaware that Lin did this. If true that makes me want to keep Lin even more. I have been impressed with Lin's play so far this year, but this is the small stuff that creates chemistry needed for championship contenders. Speaking of chemistry, it was so nice watching Dwight and co. on the bench after the D-mo dunk.

  • 2016Champions says 3 months ago

    And this is the reason that I believe that the king of bro'ness, Parsons, will be resigned in the summer of 2015. Glue guy. I mean, who on the Rockets would you want to spend a night with bar hopping? Cheer leaders are not eligible.

    If Parsons is the glue guy for the starting line-up, Lin is the glue guy for the bench and the D-League players because he always texting them and making sure they feel comfortable.

  • 2016Champions says 3 months ago

    An excellent post as always Rahat. Asik is probably gone, and Smith many nights is a train wreck on defense. D-Mo has the size and the foot speed to be a better defender by far than Jones and Smith. He has grown into a mountain of a man. He is so much more aware this season on defense, and he won the battle last night against one of the most difficult and physical power forwards in the league. Jones could not handle Randolf's power and bulk. D-Mo's immediate future, IMHO, is as Howard's backup. So my question is, if the Rockets actually are set at power forward and back up center, what do they want back in an Asik trade?

    It shouldn't even be a question anymore, Morey made it very clear he wants a 1st round pick included in any deal. He also wants a back-up center but that isn't a deal breaker, and I won't be surprised if he asks McHale to play D-Mo a little more so that D-Mo can be showcased for trade talks like Rahut said. Personally I think that if D-Mo plays well he won't be showcased in trade talks, we won't need a back-up center if D-Mo proves he can fill that void adequately. Like Rahut and Juan Grande I'm pessimistic, but I'm hopeful and eager to see more before giving up on that hope.

  • NorEastern says 3 months ago

    When D-Mo threw down that huge dunk in the fast break no one on the bench was more emphatic than Dwight was. I said last season it felt like our team was a "band of brothers" and it's great to see that we still are with Dwight in the picture, perhaps now even more so.

    And this is the reason that I believe that the king of bro'ness, Parsons, will be resigned in the summer of 2015. Glue guy. I mean, who on the Rockets would you want to spend a night with bar hopping? Cheer leaders are not eligible.

  • since86rocketsfan says 3 months ago

    I am glad coach finally gave Motie some minutes. In the preseason he played pretty well, and the ran the floor great, like last nite. Motie has a nice low post game, he just needs more touches. Jones is getting better every night, but glad our coach did not try and keep him at the five. Lin made some bad turnovers earlier, and some played some bad defense, but unlike last year, he came back in the fourth quarter and played well. Last year this team would of lost this game, and would of probably blew the Spurs game.

  • NorEastern says 3 months ago

    An excellent post as always Rahat. Asik is probably gone, and Smith many nights is a train wreck on defense. D-Mo has the size and the foot speed to be a better defender by far than Jones and Smith. He has grown into a mountain of a man. He is so much more aware this season on defense, and he won the battle last night against one of the most difficult and physical power forwards in the league. Jones could not handle Randolf's power and bulk. D-Mo's immediate future, IMHO, is as Howard's backup. So my question is, if the Rockets actually are set at power forward and back up center, what do they want back in an Asik trade?

  • 2016Champions says 3 months ago

    I kind of went off track there. I agree with the sentiment that we all want to see D-Mo succeed, and I'm also pessimistic that he will. It will all come down to hard work, because right now he lacks confidence but hard work is a very strong foundation for confidence to be built on. It's clear he has the support of everyone, Harden said it was D-Mo who won that game, but Dwight in particular was the most supportive.

    Although McHale said the reason for keeping Dwight out was because Dwight's back tightened, Dwight said after the game that he was the one who told coach to keep D-Mo in the game because D-Mo was playing well. When D-Mo threw down that huge dunk in the fast break no one on the bench was more emphatic than Dwight was. I said last season it felt like our team was a "band of brothers" and it's great to see that we still are with Dwight in the picture, perhaps now even more so.

  • Juan Grande says 3 months ago

    If he wants to play, he must show coach he is willing to work hard defending and rebounding.

    Last night was one large step in the right direction.

    But it was only one step.

    He has to build on it next time.

  • 2016Champions says 3 months ago

    I think throwing a completely different kind of defender at Z-Bo really tripped him up. The 6-9 Terrence Jones was doing his best to stay grounded against Z-Bo's pump fakes, and that made it easy for Z-Bo to get his shot up over Terrence. On the other hand D-Mo is a long 7 footer who doesn't need to jump to bother shots, and this different look completely threw Z-Bo off his rhythm in addition to the zone defense (props to McHale for that). By the end of the game, Z-Bo was so frustrated he threw away a sizable amount of money with these comments:

    It's obvious it was the refs tonight, 8 against 5. In the second half, the man shoot free throw everytime. We out there playing hard, they dictating the game. Can't be like that man, we out there playing too. It was a horrible refereed game tonight, awful.

    Here was David Stern's reaction to those comments:stern-164ybw1.jpg

    How much do you guys think the fine will be? $25k... $50k? Man, I wish someone would give me that kind of money. While I agree it was a poorly refereed game, I thought it was bad on both sides. I had no problem with the majority of the calls Harden was getting, and I wouldn't say it was 8 vs 5 considering we lost our best player early in the 3rd quarter due to 5 fouls. The refs were calling everything and Harden did a great job recognizing this and attacking the rim like a man possessed.