Minus Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets move on

Each day Donatas Motiejunas isn’t with the Houston Rockets, the playing time he would have earned as a reserve power forward goes to someone else.

Since Motiejunas isn't with the team due to a contract dispute, the Rockets have given his minutes to last year's first-round pick, Sam Dekker.

In four preseason games, Dekker has shot 56.2 percent from the floor while averaging 10.5 points. Last year, Dekker was drafted to back up the small forward position, playing behind veteran Trevor Ariza.

Back surgery for Dekker delayed that plan; he played in just three regular-season games. After being cleared for physical contact this summer, new coach Mike D’Antoni sought a new position for Dekker, who has practiced at shooting guard, small forward and power forward.

In D’Antoni’s offense, size doesn’t matter -- skill does. Dekker has the ability to become a stretch 4 by knocking down 3s and attacking the basket.

Saturday night against Memphis, Dekker scored 16 points in 33 minutes, hitting a 3 and making several baskets on drives, including a pair of dunks.

“I’m just worried about making plays on both ends of the court in any way that I can contribute, and if it’s at the 4, then so be it,” Dekker said. “I know I have a skill set that can play many positions. I’m embracing it, embracing that it will be my role this year. It’s a long season. Things can change, but if right now if [D’Antoni] wants me at the backup 4, then I’m going to do that and play my hardest.”

This was supposed to be the role for Motiejunas.

In a surprising turn, the Rockets and Motiejunas’ agent, B.J. Armstrong, can’t agree on the terms of a new contract. As a restricted free agent, Motiejunas was offered a $4.4 million qualifying offer for the 2016-17 season. Any team could have offered a contract to Motiejunas, which the Rockets could have matched.

It hasn’t happened, and since just three NBA teams have cap space, it appears doubtful a team will try to sign Motiejunas with the regular season roughly two weeks away. On Oct. 1, the qualifying offer expired, so now the Rockets can offer Motiejunas the same amount of money in a one-year deal or just wait.

Motiejunas seeks a two- or three-year deal worth much more than $4.4 million per season. Given Motiejunas’ health history and his back surgery of a year ago, the Rockets aren't looking to make a long-term deal.

Based on how his paychecks were structured last year, Motiejunas’ $2.2 million salary is paid over one calendar year, not during the course of the seven-month NBA season.

So on Nov. 1, Motiejunas will receive his final check from the Rockets. Maybe when the checks run out -- maybe, just maybe -- something will start to percolate in terms of a new contract.

While the front office waits, D’Antoni moves one with Dekker as the backup to Ryan Anderson.

Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-foot-10 undrafted rookie from Gonzaga, might also push for a roster spot. Wiltjer is a good outside shooter who just needs more experience before being relied on full time.

So as Motiejunas sits watching from afar, the Rockets allow Dekker to take advantage.