Donatas Motiejunas: 'Days, maybe a week' until back in game shape

METAIRIE, La. -- Eight months have passed since Donatas Motiejunas has been able to suit up and participate in an NBA game, but the former Houston Rockets big man is looking forward to finally breaking his unanticipated streak with the New Orleans Pelicans.

"I feel incredible," Motiejunas said. "I was working by myself for the last five months, and it's really hard when you have only a couple of people with you working out every day. You have to push yourself, because you know someone else is playing and getting back in shape by playing. It's much easier than working out by yourself. I'm just happy to be back. Hopefully it's not going to take long to get back into game shape. I'm doing whatever I can to be ready as soon as possible."

Motiejunas, 26, a restricted free agent heading into this past offseason, had five months to prepare after a flurry of activity had him primed to play for the Brooklyn Nets, the Rockets, and then ultimately neither.

He signed a one-year contract Tuesday with the Pelicans for the prorated veterans minimum, nearly three weeks after the Rockets surrendered his rights and allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent.

"It was really frustrating," Motiejunas said about the situation. "On the other [hand], I tried to keep my cool head. I was working out in Vancouver, so not a lot of people know me there. There was not a lot of pressure. I had a lot of good people there around me who helped me really go through this."

A lingering back injury forced Motiejunas out of all but 37 games last season and led to the voiding of a trade last February to the Detroit Pistons. Both Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry and Motiejunas said the 7-footer has been medically cleared by the Pelicans.

"I've been cleared by every single team that I visited, medically" Motiejunas said.

Gentry said he doesn't see Motiejunas playing extended minutes right away, and there are no playing restrictions once he works his way back into playing shape, which Motiejunas estimated will take him only "days, maybe a week" because of his training in the offing.

ESPN reported last week that the Los Angeles Lakers had flown Motiejunas in for an audition in front of Los Angeles' front office and coaches, and sources told ESPN's Marc Stein that the Minnesota Timberwolves had also expressed some interest.

"I visited a couple of teams and I saw the best opportunity here," he said, "so my decision was pretty easy."

Gentry said he sees the big man playing mostly center for a Pelicans team that has recently downsized to small ball with Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones both playing center.

Omer Asik has not played in the Pelicans' past five games and Alexis Ajinca has not played in the past four. The traditional centers are making a combined $14.6 million this season.

"I think that he alleviates some of the double-teams [around Davis] that teams can throw out there because he can spot up and he can space the floor," Gentry said. "I think having him out there creates more space. We kind of want to look at it like maybe a Channing Frye situation."

Jones, who split minutes with Motiejunas for four seasons in Houston, said he doesn't see any competition for playing time and that "it's all love." Gentry said he could see both former Rockets playing together.

Davis couldn't recall a player with whom he has shared a frontcourt who has Motiejunas' combination of size and quickness.

"It gives me another opportunity to get out on the floor and roam," Davis said. "Be able to step out and shoot the ball or be able to attack more. He brings a lot to our team. There's stuff that we're looking for that he's got in his arsenal. We're excited to have him."

Gentry confirmed that the Pelicans had interest in Motiejunas at last year's trade deadline because of the former Rockets big man's ability to pass and stretch the floor. League sources told ESPN last season that the Rockets and Pelicans discussed a trade package around Ryan Anderson, who went one to sign with Houston this past offseason.

"We talked about trading for him last year," Gentry said. "We talked in detail about adding him to our team because we felt like he was a guy that offensively could help us and do what we tried to anticipate in the system that we were running. It just didn't work out, but we've had an interest in him."

While still a restricted free agent, Motiejunas signed a four-year offer sheet with the Nets in late November that was potentially worth up to $35 million. After Houston matched the Nets' offer sheet, Motiejunas refused to report for his physical, which led to the sides reworking some of the contract terms in a new four-year deal.

The Rockets, though, ultimately decided to surrender their rights to Motiejunas and make him an unrestricted free agent after he finally took his physical, severing their ties to him after four seasons together following negotiations with his agent B.J. Armstrongand league officials.

Motiejunas said he's looking forward to playing against the Rockets but doesn't harbor any grudges as a result of his experiences with them in free agency.

"I don't have any problems with anyone over there," he said. "I've worked with great people, the people in the organization that worked with me every day. I have nothing but respect."

ESPN's Marc Stein contributed to this report.
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