As reported by Yahoo! Sports, Donatas Motiejunas has refused to report to the Rockets for a physical exam.
Motiejunas is the Rockets’ restricted free agent. He signed an offer sheet with the Nets on December 2, which starts a 72-hour clock for the Rockets to match. If the Rockets match, they keep Motiejunas on the same principal terms as Brooklyn’s offer sheet. If the Rockets don’t match, the offer sheet becomes a contract with the Nets.
The Rockets chose to match on December 5, by issuing a First Refusal Exercise Notice. A team is allowed to condition its exercise of first refusal rights on the player passing a physical exam, and apparently the Rockets did just that. The player is required to report for his physical within two days, and must comply with the process.
However, Motiejunas and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, apparently have other ideas. As reported by Yahoo!, Motiejunas is refusing to report for his physical. And here’s where it gets weird:
Motiejunas' agent, B.J. Armstrong: "We have our rights. We're not going to show up. We'll see what happens. We'll see what the Rockets do."— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) December 6, 2016
I’m not entirely sure what “rights” Armstrong is referring to. The rules for restricted free agency are laid out pretty clearly in the CBA, and the players (collectively) agreed to those rules. Trying to get out of that arrangement goes against the spirit, intent and letter of restricted free agency, to which the players agreed.
Here’s the rule I’m referring to. I’m assuming that Houston’s qualifying offer was properly executed, Brooklyn’s offer sheet was properly executed, Houston’s first refusal exercise notice was properly executed, and that Houston conditioned its first refusal exercise notice on Motiejunas passing a physical:
(h) Any Team may condition its First Refusal Exercise Notice on the player reporting for and passing, in the sole discretion of the Team, a physical examination to be conducted by a physician designated by the Team within two (2) days from its exercise of the Right of First Refusal. In connection with the physical examination, the player must supply all information reasonably requested of him, provide complete and truthful answers to all questions posed to him, and submit to all examinations and tests requested of him. In the event the player does not pass the physical examination: (i) the ROFR Team may withdraw its First Refusal Exercise Notice within two (2) days following the date upon which such physical examination is conducted; and (ii) if the First Refusal Exercise Notice is withdrawn, the player and the New Team shall be deemed to have entered into a Player Contract in accordance with the provisions of Section 5(f) above. In the event the player does not submit to the requested physical examination within two (2) days of the exercise of the Right of First Refusal then, until such time as the player submits to the requested physical examination and is notified of the results, the ROFR Team’s conditional First Refusal Exercise Notice shall remain in effect, except that the ROFR Team may elect at any time to withdraw its First Refusal Exercise Notice, which shall have the effect of invalidating the Offer Sheet and causing the Team that issued the Offer Sheet to be prohibited from signing or acquiring the player for a period of one (1) year from the date the First Refusal Exercise Notice was withdrawn. If the player does not submit to the requested physical examination on or before March 1, the Offer Sheet shall be deemed invalid and the Team that issued the Offer Sheet shall be prohibited from signing or acquiring the player for a period of one (1) year from such March 1.
So, summarizing what the rule says:
- Houston is allowed to make its first refusal exercise notice contingent on Motiejunas passing a physical.
- The player must submit to and cooperate with his physical, which is to take place within two days of the exercise of the first refusal exercise notice.
- If Motiejunas doesn’t report for his physical, Houston’s first refusal exercise notice remains in effect until he does.
- However, Motiejunas’ refusal to submit for his physical gives the Rockets the option of withdrawing its first refusal exercise notice.
- If the Rockets withdraw its first refusal exercise notice, it invalidates Brooklyn’s offer sheet as well, and Motiejunas returns to restricted free agency.
- If the first refusal exercise notice is withdrawn, Brooklyn’s offer sheet is invalidated and Motiejunas returns to restricted free agency, Brooklyn can’t sign or acquire him for one year.
So the Rockets have two options at this point. First, they can just sit tight. Their first refusal exercise notice remains in effect until Motiejunas decides to report. He can’t sign or play anywhere else, including Brooklyn, in the meantime.
Second, the Rockets could withdraw its first refusal exercise notice, putting Motiejunas right back where he started — except Brooklyn is no longer an option. And if he doesn’t sign with the Rockets directly, or sign an offer sheet with another team in the meantime, then the Rockets can issue another qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent in 2017.
And it could get worse for him. The CBA also says a player shall not receive credit for a year of service for any year in which he “…withholds playing services called for by a Player Contract or this Agreement for more than thirty (30) days after the Season begins.” It’s important to note here that the rules for restricted free agency say that when a team issues a first refusal exercise notice, the player and team “…shall be deemed to have entered into a Player Contract.” Motiejunas is, for all intents and purposes, under contract with the Rockets now, and the Rockets have all the rules related to player discipline for failure to report at their disposal (along with the right to kick him to the curb by withdrawing their first refusal exercise notice).
This all seems pretty clear to me, so I’m still not sure what “rights” Armstrong is referring to. Maybe his end game is to get the Rockets to withdraw its first refusal exercise notice, and then Armstrong and the Rockets negotiate a separate contract that is more favorable to Motiejunas. But why should the Rockets let a player leverage them into signing a different contract that’s less favorable to the team, when the team holds all the cards here?
Armstrong isn’t exercising a right. He’s trying to strong-arm a team.