The fifth overall pick of the 2011 NBA draft Jonas Valanciunas is a traditional 7′ center in a game that is evolving away from the paint. So if the Toronto Raptors want “a change” and face the Luxury Tax challenge of keeping their own free agents this summer, what could they get for for this still developing 25-year-old big man.
Valanciunas is a space-eater, a top-10 rebounder in each of the past three seasons and an imposing force against the undersized big men becoming oh so common in today’s NBA. Unfortunately, those same undersized big men can send him to the bench in the fourth quarter as Valanciunas struggles guarding the perimeter.
He is the type of player a team doesn’t need until they need him, but when your team is getting hammered on the boards, Valanciunas is the kind of guy you’ll need to stop the bleeding and hit back.
On Sportsnet, Dave Zarum quotes the former assistant general manager of the Brooklyn Nets Bobby Marks ahead of the trade deadline as saying,
“I think the league goes in cycles and there’s still a role for centers.
“In certain situations— Cleveland going small— then there’s probably not a role for him, but in the majority of matchups there is.
“I wouldn’t do anything with him if I’m in Toronto. It would have to be something really big. You look at what centers got this (past) summer — Mozgov, Noah, Mahinmi — and Jonas’ contract ($16 million/yr) carries great value.”
The Raptors made their own moves at the trade deadline by bringing in Serge Ibaka, a player they want to keep in free agency this summer who has made no secret of the fact he wants to start at center next year. So unless Raptors president Masai Ujiri is happy paying starter’s money for a center who’s likely to come the bench next season, he needs to find a trade partner for Valanciunas.
Like last summer there will be a lot of noise about the Celtics packaging draft picks and players to land another star, but the prices were too high for Danny Aigne last year and they’ll likely be too high again this year. Aigne isn’t about to disrupt what’s he’s building for a rental, potential poor fit or a massive overpay in free agency either.
The Celtics are a good team already, albeit a good team with a glaring weakness. They were one of the worst rebounding teams (-2.5 boards per game) during the regular season. They were the worst rebounding team (-6.6) in the playoffs.
What the Celtics do have is 2012 second round pick Jae Crowder who has evolved into a solid “3-and-D” small forward. While no one is going to call him a “LeBron Stopper,” he is just the kind of small forward the Raptors need for next season. He is also uncomfortably in the way of the Celtics third overall pick of last season Jaylen Brown.
If these two Atlantic Division rivals can put their egos aside, they have the solution to each other’s problem in a player they can afford to trade. Hopefully someone reminds them the goal is to get by Cleveland, if not now, eventually?
The Pacers would have been hard pressed to screw up last season any worse and while they probably cling to hope over the summer of a resurgence strong enough to convince Paul George to re-sign, if next season resembles last season, it’ll take a major brain cramp to not start shopping their best player before the trade deadline.
The problem with shopping a “rental” All-Star is teams won’t be giving up much unless they believe he’ll re-sign in his new home. Maybe George really does want to go lose with the Lakers? But it seems more likely he’d rather join a team that gives him a shot at the NBA Finals – say hello to Boston and Toronto.
Last year Aigne wouldn’t give a top draft pick and/or top young prospect(s) for a potential rental of Serge Ibaka and who could blame him? The Celtics don’t need to take those kinds of risks for a real shot at getting to the next level all on their own.
The Raptors are likely easier to convince, in part because they don’t have any former or current top five draft picks to risk other than Valanciunas.
It might seem like a pipe dream for Toronto to land a player like George, but if next season plays out like last season (for Orlando), the Pacers could find themselves looking for the best available offer with a player who has made it very clear where he wants to end up.
Mark Cuban doesn’t like to lose and he doesn’t like to wait either, so if the Raptors just want to do a salary dump for a first round lottery draft pick, the Mavericks are the team to talk to.
Draft Express has 7′ Arizona freshman stretch four Lauri Markkanen going to Dallas at nine and describe him as,
One of the top jump shooters in this draft regardless of position
Among the top shooting players over 6’10 in NCAA history
Shooters of his caliber at the power forward position don’t come along very often
If the Raptors can bring back both Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, a player like Markkanen could be the perfect long term fit.
Why not just keep Valanciunas?
The Raptors make a lot of money. They are third in attendance in the NBA and, supposedly, Ujiri can go into the Tax if he so chooses. Bringing Valanciunas in off the bench probably doesn’t affect his minutes all that much and he’d arguably be the best backup center in the NBA.
As anyone who has followed the team for a long time knows, believing a stated willingness to pay Luxury Tax has fallen firmly into the show-me category. Besides, the Raptors have a backup center in Jakob Poeltl who can/should fill that role admirably next season if given a chance for a lot less money.
Valanciunas would probably say all the right things about coming off the bench, but most of us would have a hard time believing him if it lasted into the new year. To be fair, it’s start him or trade him.
As Bobby Marks said, “Jonas’ contract ($16 million/yr) carries great value.” So Ujiri should be able to extract pretty good value for Valanciunas. However, the problem will be other general managers can figure out the Raptors pending Luxury Tax issues with Toronto re-signing their own free agents and will want to exploit that situation for themselves.
What Ujiri can get for Valanciunas will depend as much on how quickly he wants to unload that contract for his own reasons as what he needs to get back. However, assuming Ujiri was sincere in wanting to re-sign free agents Kyle Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker, this is one situation that isn’t going to just go away.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.
Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson