Report: Jonas Valanciunas to Decline $17.6M Contract Option, Test Free Agency

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2019

Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas (17) reacts in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday, March 25, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Brandon Dill/Associated Press

Jonas Valanciunas will become an unrestricted free agent after he decided to opt out of the final year of his contract, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday.  

The decision does not mean the big man's time in Memphis is over, though. Wojnarowski noted Valanciunas' "primary intention" will be to negotiate a new deal to return to the Grizzlies.

But until he signs on the dotted line, he will now be free to explore his market.

Valanciunas' decision is a bit of a surprise, as he would've earned roughly $17.6 million in 2019-20. Matching that salary will be difficult on the open market, although he can earn more long-term security.

Valanciunas ended this past season with the Memphis Grizzlies, who acquired him at the trade deadline in a package from the Toronto Raptors for Marc Gasol.

Between his time with the Raptors and Grizzlies, he appeared in only 49 games, as he missed time because of a thumb surgery and a sprained right ankle. He averaged 15.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in only 22.3 minutes per game.

For his career, he's averaging 17.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes, according to Basketball Reference. He's a consistent scorer and rebounder inside, and the general perception of his game would've been far different 10 or 20 years ago when traditional centers were more in vogue.

Valanciunas has obvious limitations. He can be a liability on defense when opponents switch him onto more athletic guards and forwards, and he has yet to develop a consistent long-range jumper. Over the past two seasons, the seven-year veteran shot 44-of-122 (36.1 percent) on three-pointers.

Any team looking to add Valanciunas will be well aware of his flaws and thus have a good idea how to mask them when he's on the floor.

The question is what kind of market will materialize when free agency officially opens.

By opting out, Valanciunas is joining a number of experienced centers who are hitting free agency as well. Nikola Vucevic, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Brook Lopez and Enes Kanter are all unrestricted free agents, while Marc Gasol and Al Horford have player options. Willie Cauley-Stein is a restricted free agent, so the Sacramento Kings can match any offer sheet he receives.

Of that group, Valanciunas is definitively better than Kanter, but that's about it. Once the top centers are signed, teams may not be willing to break the bank to get the 27-year-old Lithuanian.