There is a newly acquired seven-foot, board bangin’, paint stompin’, reboundin’ machine named Jonas Valanciunas who has quickly captured the hearts of Grizzlies fans. Is it true love, or is the fanbase just on the rebound during the team's rebuild?
When Pau Gasol was traded from the Grizzlies to the Lakers back in 2008, many lambasted the trade. The Grizzlies were criticized for, in essence, trading away their franchise player, who was still in his prime, for what amounted to expiring contracts and future assets, including Pau's younger brother, Marc. Although Pau was criticized for being too passive to be the best player on a good team, like the Grizzlies needed him to be, the overwhelming consensus was that he was one of the most skilled big men in the entire NBA and would help the Lakers tremendously — as he did.
Except for General Manager Chris Wallace, who insisted that the younger Gasol was a hidden gem, not many anticipated Marc Gasol panning out like he did. When he finally made his debut with the team, after coming over to the United States from playing professionally in Spain, he instantly became a fan favorite. He was big, burly, and wild; he fought in the paint and backed down from no one. He was the Anti-Pau, and the antidote that the team and fanbase needed to get over their traded star. For every memory of Pau being balled up on the floor after getting overpowered in the paint or checking for blood, the fans were gifted with Marc roaring with energy as he finished in the paint through contact.
He was a rebound for the broken hearted — a symbol of hope for a franchise in transition. He was the bigger, stronger, tougher, Memphis-molded version of his older brother, and just what the city needed at the time.
Similarly, Valanciunas has been just what Grizzlies fans have needed after Marc Gasol's departure. During a period where wins and losses feel the about the same as far as draft positioning is concerned, watching JV thrive on the court has been a thrill. He’s averaged 18.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in the seven games he’s played for the team, and has reminded many of the younger more paint-oriented version of what Marc was. The idea of him playing next to now-injured Jaren Jackson Jr. has left many fantasizing that Valanciunas' physical style will be the perfect complement to Jackson’s youth and diverse talents, and cover his weaknesses — a yin to Jackson’s yang, an alternate reality Z-Bo to Marc, or the other way around — whatever makes sense to you.
Still, it’s not a great idea for fans to get too attached to their new-found love, since Valanciunas has a player-option on the $17 million owed to him for next season. He might opt in for the final year with Grizzlies, making him a free agent in 2020, or sign an extension with the Grizzlies, or opt out of his final year and become a free agent in 2019. No one knows, at this point.
There is also the possibility that he opts in and is then traded to another team.
That said, Valanciunas has been a pleasant surprise, especially to those who didn’t know that the team was acquiring one of the league's top young centers. He’s not Marc Gasol and might not even be here long enough to build a legacy, but he’s been perfect in the moment.
It’s perfectly fine to be excited about the potential that fans see in Valanciunas on the court and even in the locker room. But, be careful Grizz fans. It's okay to fall in love with a rebound, just don’t get too enamored by someone who may break your heart.