Back in early July, the Nets excited their fan base with two unconventional and aggressive moves — big offer sheets to Tyler Johnson, for $50 million, and Allen Crabbe, for $70 million. Excitement led to disappointment when the Heat matched on Johnson and the Trail Blazers on Crabbe.
Both offers were far more lucrative than what the Nets are offering Donatas Motiejunas. His deal, as discussed by various pundits, is for $37 million, but it appears only $5 million is fully guaranteed. Motiejunas will receive that money upfront when he signs. After that, it gets complicated. By January 10, when all NBA contracts become guaranteed, the Lithuanian seven-footer will receive another $3.5 million. Ultimately, with some front-loading and incentives, Motiejunas could receive $9.8 million this season.
Then, on March 1, the Nets (or the Rockets if they match) have a team option on year two of his deal. According to most reports, his team whoever it is will then have to commit another $9 million, making the two-year deal worth $18 million. Under the CBA, the matching team cannot trade him at all this season; cannot trade him without his permission for 12 months, cannot trade him to the Nets for 12 months, period.
Then, it gets even more complicated, as Adrian Wojnarowski writes...
The final two years of the contract are non-guaranteed, league sources said, which means the team can cut Motiejunas loose without paying the balance of the contract. Before the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, there’s a July 7 trigger date to make a decision on Motiejunas’ deal. Each of the four years includes $1 million in likely bonuses, and $500,000 in unlikely bonuses, sources said.
Compare that to the Johnson and Crabbe offer sheets. Neither was anywhere near this complicated. Essentially, the two 24-year-olds got guaranteed four-year deals. There were some cap issues, but in terms of cold hard cash, those deals were bigger and better than the 26-year-old Motiejunas is getting.
At first glance, it would appear that this is a no-brainer for Daryl Morey, who low-balled Motiejunas this summer with a two-year deal starting at $7 million but guaranteed for only one year. Now, that the market has spoken, in the form of the Nets and Sean Marks, it’s an easy decision to match and move on. Right?
Not so fast. The money is one thing, but the Rockets are, as Kevin Pelton describes them, “obsessive” about having flexibility. This deal might seem flexible, but it makes little sense for Houston to dump Motiejunas before the summer. They either want him or they don’t. As Pelton writes, if they go along with the offer sheet, and commit to his second year on March 1, Motiejunas sucks up all their projected cap space for the 2017 free agency.
They could, of course, just hang on to him for this season, but if they decide against giving him a commitment for year two, he becomes a free agent on July 1. The Nets can step in and sign him during the summer. Brooklyn has just set his market price and he and agent B.J. Armstrong now have a relationship with Marks, Prokhorov, et al. As Motiejunas has said, he appreciated that the Nets approached him, adding that their medical evaluation of his back is comforting
There are also development issues for Houston, who seems a lot more concerned about his back issues than the Nets. They just completed an impressive back-to-back without Motiejunas, beating the Warriors in overtime on the first night, then despite the comedown from the adrenaline high, defeated Denver on the second. Both games were on the road and the two players Mike D’Antoni has used in place of Motiejunas —Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker— have excelled. Limiting their minutes now after they’ve begun to peak doesn’t seem to be the best development strategy and do the Rockets want to fool with chemistry?
Of course, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander could make it personal —as the Heat’s Micky Arison and the Blazers’ Paul Allen apparently did last summer— and tell Morey to match. (Arison you may recall said he would not let the Nets “poach” his players.)
For the Nets, this appears to be a move without much downside, almost risk-free. Motiejunas is a good player, not a savior, but they’d be adding a 26-year-old with deft passing skills, terrific post moves, solid three point shooting and reasonable defense. His arrival and that of Caris LeVert would dramatically improve the bench. If, as one would assume, Motiejunas starts next to Brook Lopez, Trevor Booker would return to his natural role as a firebrand off the bench. LeVert would help as well.
And that first year money? It’s basically free. The Nets are $9.2 million below the CBA salary floor, meaning they HAVE to pay out that $9.2 million either in salary or if they don’t spend it, in bonuses to the roster players as of April 14, the last day of the regular season. Better to use it, not lose it.
If after a month, the Nets don’t like what they see, or have concerns about his back, they can wave goodbye to him (and $5 million) on January 10. Then, assuming they keep him, they have seven more weeks to evaluate him before March 1, when they have to make a decision on year two.
It is a reasonable, responsible deal ... but unconventional enough to cause Morey and Alexander (some) lost sleep. Is it too reasonable, too responsible? It’s certainly more reasonable and responsible than the Johnson and Crabbe offer sheets. Right now —and it is VERY early in their four years deals, it appears the Johnson contract is a better value than Crabbe’s.
If it doesn’t work, it isn’t awful but it would be the third time Marks has gone the RFA route and come away empty. Not good, considering paying big bucks to restricted free agents IS a big part of the Nets rebuilding strategy. Still, Motiejunas would be the third RFA to agree to a Nets offer sheet. That should be noticed.
So we along with the front office wait till 11:59 p.m. Monday for Houston’s final decision. Considering the Nets’ wild spending and panicked moves in the previous regime, we can deal with it.
There are other issues, like Lopez’s future, who gets cut if Houston passes, the renwed chemistry between Motiejunas and Jeremy Lin, etc., etc. We can do that story on Tuesday.