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The trial of Jonas Valanciunas

The big man has his day in court...

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

You have now entered the Grizzly Bear Blues court room, where the (kind of) Honorable Joe Mullinax presides over standing cases of debate involving the Memphis Grizzlies. Today’s case is a somewhat unexpected one - the debate over whether or not Jonas Valanciunas should be the focus of a long-term deal for the Memphis Grizzlies. Both sides will have their say, and then Judge Mullinax will render a verdict that will almost certainly be disagreed with immediately by a vast majority of people.


Judge Mullinax: Thank you, bailiff, and hello everyo...wait...where is everyone?

Valanciunas Lawyer: It would appear that the NBA Finals, the Lakers/Anthony Davis saga, and the US Open are all taking priority, your honor.

Grizzlies Lawyer: Yes, and both our parties that we represent are unable to be in attendance.

JM: Well why is that? This is kind of important...

VL: Jonas regrets missing this, but he had a fishing excursion already planned in Norway. He wanted to use WhatsApp but they weren’t able to get service.

GL: Yes, and Zachary Kleiman was going to be here but his flight got canceled and apparently their internet at FedExForum isn’t working so they cannot Skype or call in...

JM: Well let’s get this over with then. We are here to settle the argument over whether or not the Memphis Grizzlies should invest long-term in Jonas Valanciunas...

VL: Your honor, if it pleases the court, I would like to move that we actually focus on amount of money and not a long-term investment. Clearly my client makes Memphis better, and therefore it makes no logical sense to not re-sign him.

GL: I object, your honor. The Grizzlies have decided that this idea that Jonas is necessary to the future of Memphis is not entirely accurate, and we want this session to center around whether or not Valanciunas should be in Memphis period.

VL: What sense does that make? First off, you all traded your franchise cornerstone - you know, the dude that just won a ring, Marc Gasol - in large part for him to be your center of the future. How foolish would you look if you simply allowed one of the key cogs of such a defining move leave?

GL: Well using that logic, any trade loses its value once the return leaves. That’s simply not the case - Jonas was indeed a key piece of what we were got back in trading Gasol. But moving Marc had multiple layers to it - wanting to send him somewhere he could compete (clearly we nailed that) while maintaining our own cap flexibility. This opt out by Jonas just accelerates the potential window for that cap space to come open. An overpay on too many years cancels that out.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

JM: Clearly Valanciunas was productive in his time in Memphis. His per-36 numbers were some of the best of his career while he was a Grizzly. He can score, he can rebound, he’s a better rim protector than he gets credit for, he sets great screens...why not keep that kind of player around?

GL: It’s not because of what he can do, your honor. It’s because of what he can’t do...

VL: What, he can’t run the point? Aren’t you about to have Ja Morant for that?

GL: No, it’s the fact he can’t do much beyond the paint...on either end of the floor. He’s a dinosaur, your honor. A player that should’ve been born in 1972, not 1992. He cannot effectively hedge or switch on the pick and roll, he cannot shoot threes consistently, and considering the direction we want to go in he cannot be on our roster.

VL: Now wait a minute. Valanciunas could develop a three point shot - Brook Lopez, who new Grizzlies Head Coach Taylor Jenkins worked with in Milwaukee, proved that. So have other bigs, like Gasol himself. The perimeter shot can be added, and Jonas has already been hard at work improving that aspect of his game. Defensively? You’re right, Jonas isn’t the most fleet of foot. But he thrives in areas where the young bigs of Memphis - Jaren Jackson Jr., Ivan Rabb - struggle, like rebounding.

JM: Rabb looks like he’s going to blow away if they turn up the air conditioning in the gym...and Jaren isn’t far behind. Are they ready to be centers in the NBA, perimeter-centric game or not?

GL: We believe they are, your honor...

VL: Objection, absurd statement.

JM: Overruled...I want to see where this goes.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

GL: Jaren is the prototypical NBA center in what we plan on doing offensively. Jaren and our likely 1st round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Ja Morant, can thrive in all variations of the pick and roll. Morant and Valanciunas would be much more limited. Jaren also makes us much more able to switch defensively, something Coach Jenkins learned from Coach Budenholzer and wants to implement here. While he is not the strongest rebounder, we believe we can replace that skill set in the aggregate with cheaper options, including a more consistent role for Ivan Rabb, who rebounded extremely well in somewhat limited minutes last season.

VL: Ivan Rabb grabbed less rebounds this season in terms of rebound percentage than last season. Try again.

GL: OK, even if you’re not as high on Ivan Rabb or Jackson as rebounders, as I stated we feel that some free agent options - Joakim Noah, Marcin Gortat, Nerlens Noel - would be cheaper than Jonas and would not carry the long-term price tag that Valanciunas does.

VL: Yes, those old guys and the dude who gets hot dogs during games are much better options than Jonas. Just admit it - you don’t want to pay Valanciunas what he is worth. Jonas is Nikola Vucevic without the extensive offensive tool belt. He shouldn’t make his level of money, but $18-$20 million? That’s very much what we hope for him to get.

GL: You can hope all you want, but he isn’t getting that from Memphis. We know we are entering a long-term rebuild. We don’t want to enter any long-term deal that will stop us from being able to acquire assets to help build around Jaren and Ja. Using Valanciunas’ contract if he had opted in to acquire another big - like Bismack Biyombo or Ian Mahinmi - and a 1st round pick was something we were interested in. The contract had value, as did his skill set to a possibly playoff team. That isn’t us, and we can’t commit too much for too long to someone that may be unplayable in a playoff game towards the end of his deal.

JM: I do recall reading a report that Valanciunas doesn’t want to be a part of a rebuild. If the Grizzlies trade Mike Conley, that’s pretty much a full embrace of such a...process...haha, get it??

ENTIRE ROOM: (Silence as a tumbleweed rolls by)

JM: If the Grizzlies are changing styles of play, and probably won’t be good enough to compete for the postseason for at least two seasons, why stick around after opting out?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

VL: Peace of mind, your honor. Jonas isn’t asking for the world. He simply wants to be wanted, and he wants this contract to reflect that. He understands he isn’t Vucevic, and isn’t even going to see the amount of money per year that he opted out of. He just knows he provides skills that the young bigs of Memphis are not able to yet, and feels that over four years he can be both a mentor and contributor to a team that hopes to grow together and improve to the point of a return to postseason relevance. Four years, $56 million - $14 million per. Biyombo and Mahimhi, far more inferior players, make more that that per year.

JM: Sounds pretty reasonable.

GL: Except it isn’t. Previous contracts signed in a summer where money was free flowing aren’t the same as our situation. We respect what Jonas has done for our team in his short time with the franchise, but we cannot sacrifice long-term viability for a player of his skill set. We want to build a team capable of winning an NBA championship - overpaying a regular season contributor that may not be able to play in postseason series because of his lack of versatility is counterproductive to that. We were thinking four years, $48 million, with the 4th season being a partial guarantee. The contract would be descending in value - $15 million this season, then $13 million, $11 million, and $9 million with only $2 million guaranteed.

VL: That’s not even a full four-year deal! We would’ve been better off opting in, with that contract!

JM: I feel like perhaps there’s a middle ground here. Memphis assumed Jonas was going to opt in anyway, correct? How about this - 4 years, $48 million, but front loaded. Essentially the opt in, and then a 3-year deal for much less. So year one would be $17.6 million, as planned. Then the next three years would be a little more than $10.1 million per year. All fully guaranteed, and if Jonas does indeed regress or become unplayable he’s basically making the mid-level exception by the end of the contract.


GL: Yeah, I’m not sure the Grizzlies will accept that.

JM: Compromise or move on, folks. Jaren Jackson Jr. probably isn’t ready to be a center, but Jonas opted out and gave away a good bit of leverage. The Grizzlies have less incentive to overpay to compete after getting the #2 pick in this draft, and Jaren and (probably) Ja are the future. Jonas is probably the bridge that connects here to there...but that shouldn’t mean sacrificing cap space to build a contender down the road. If that deal doesn’t fit, perhaps it’s best everyone moves on. The Gasol trade was completed in a different world than we live in now. Both sides have to come to terms with that.

GL: Can we all at least agree that Marc Gasol, NBA Champion sounds awesome?

VL: I mean, Jonas Valanciunas, NBA Champion sounds better...

JM: It does sound awesome. Just wish it could’ve happened in Memphis. I guess we will have to prioritize Jaren Jackson Jr., NBA Champion now. Court adjourned.

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