Okay, okay. I’m fine with the Grizz keeping Jonas Valanciunus.
If you had caught me as little as two weeks ago, I was dead-set against the Grizzlies attempting to resign the veteran big man. I even had a column in the chamber where I was going to rant about it, but I never submitted it. JV had just made a decision to opt-out of the $17 million that was owed to him for the final season of his previous contract and I was in favor of he and the Grizzlies parting ways, instead of coming to terms with a new deal.
I had my reasons. I had my concerns. Some of those concerns I still have, but since then, I have given the deal a closer look, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it probably was the best move for the Grizzlies to keep Valanciunus for the three-year, $45 million deal that was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski Sunday afternoon.
The Grizzlies made the best of the deal by not including a fourth season, which lines up with the first extension of Jaren Jackson Jr., whose contract will be structured to descend with Valanciunus’ deal, beginning at roughly $16 million in year one, followed by $15 million and then $14 million in its final year.
Valanciunus is a proven veteran center who showed well for the Grizzlies in his 19 games with the team last season. He averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, while becoming a focal point of the Grizzlies offense at the tail-end of the season. He’s not “young,” but he’s young enough, at 27, where he can be a nice presence alongside Jackson. His throwback bruising style allows Jackson to be more dynamic and creative, and not have to carry the load of being a rebounder and banger in the paint. JV is also good enough to help win games for the Grizzlies when Jackson is in foul trouble or Ja Morant is struggling; Valanciunus can help carry the load and get the team over the hump. This happened often enough during his limited stint last year for me to expect to see it again.
This also leads to my earlier concerns about signing him. Since JV is the type of player who is able to score inside using his size, strength, and skill, seemingly at will, could this be problematic if he starts to feel like he should be the focal point of the offense, instead of a third-option safety valve for the younger players. He is a 20 & 10 caliber player that the Grizzlies don’t particularly need to be a contributor on that level. I’m also concerned that Valanciunus might not fit with what new Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins wants to do offensively — or defensively. He’s a change of pace from any big that Jenkins has had in Atlanta or Milwaukee as an assistant coach.
Still, the bottom line is that I’m optimistic about Valanciunus' return and I'm hoping that he continues to be the inside force that he has shown himself to be — as well as the workhorse personality that captured the attention of the fanbase and local media.
There will be games where it will be great to have him and games where he will look like he’s simply in the way, but I see the good heavily outweighing the bad. Is he the type of player that you base your coaching hire around or that you keep Mike Conley around for? No, but he could be good for taking pressure off of Jackson and great for setting strong picks for Ja Morant. And, honestly, who gets tired of seeing a big, crazy dude with a beard throwing opposing players around? I’m sold.