NEW ORLEANS — Veteran 7-footer Donatas Motiejunas has signed a free-agent contract to play for the New Orleans Pelicans for the rest of this season, the club announced on Tuesday.
A person familiar with the negotations, speaking on condition of anonymity because contract terms have not been releases, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Motiejunas will be paid a pro-rated veteran minimum worth about $600,000.
Motiejunas, who'll now have an opportunity to play in the front court alongside perennial All-Star Anthony Davis, has played four seasons in the NBA with Houston, averaging 7.8 points and four rebounds.
As a restricted free agent last offseason, he signed an offer sheet from Brooklyn worth about $36 million over four years. Houston initially sought to match it, but ultimately allow the 26-year-old Lithuanian to become an unrestricted free agent after negotiations broke down, in part because of the player's history with back injuries.
The Pelicans were competing with several teams for Motiejunas, who was scheduled to meet with Minnesota on Sunday, but canceled to focus on exclusive negotiations with New Orleans.
With a proven mid-range jump shot, he can play forward or center. His ability to defend power forwards or centers means than when he is on the court with Davis, the pair and switch on the fly between four and center as situations and opposing team lineups dictate.
The Pelicans already have to 7-footers on the roster — Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca — but both have struggled to crack the lineup lately.
The risk of adding Motiejunas — who had back surgery in 2015 and played only 37 games last season — is minimal because of what he'll earn.
For Motiejunas, the contract represents a chance to audition for the entire NBA in Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry's up-tempo system for when he enters free agency again in the 2017 offseason.
The Pelicans, whose four-game winning streak was snapped at Cleveland on Monday night, next play at home on Thursday night against the Atlanta Hawks. New Orleans, which has won five of seven games as the club has tried to overcome a slow start to the season, entered Tuesday's NBA slate 1½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.