Toronto Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas is up for an extension this summer, and it appears the two sides are getting close to a deal. A Lithuanian website first reported that Valanciunas was leaving the Lithuanian National Team to head back to Toronto in order to hammer out an extension, and ESPN’s Marc Stein reports there are “advanced discussions” on a four-year deal worth “in excess” of $60 million, a reasonable number for a talented 23-year-old.
Valanciunas is coming off a rather interesting season in Toronto. It was the most productive year of his career, as he averaged 12.0 points (a career high) and 8.7 rebounds while shooting a career-best 57.2 percent from the field. Those numbers stayed mostly steady in the postseason (11 and 9.3 in 26.5 minutes per game), although his efficiency dipped a bit (50 percent shooting).
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey took some heat for not giving Valanciunas more court time (he played less last year than he did in his second year), and given that solid production and capable rim protection (he allowed 46.5 percent shooting at the rim, per SportVU), those criticisms seem to hold some water. It’d certainly be ideal for the big man to see more court time to aid in his development.
On the other hand, Valanciunas had the worst net rating among regular rotation players in Toronto last season, per NBA.com. In fact, the Raptors were 8.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the bench compared to when he was on the court in the regular season. (The Raptors were a complete and utter disaster with Valanciunas off the floor in the postseason, although that was a small sample size in a giant mess of a series.) He ranked in the middle of the pack in centers in terms of Real Plus-Minus, so while some of his numbers are promising, he needs to make more of an impact on the floor.
Of course, some of these numbers aren’t all his fault when taking team context and his usage into account, and he has plenty of room to grow at just 23 years old. And considering his youth, potential and the rising cap (up to around $90 million for 2016-17), a four-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $60 million is a good deal for Toronto.
Consider that Enes Kanter just inked a four-year, $70 million deal this summer. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who’d rather have Kanter at $70 million over four years than Valanciunas at $60 million-plus over four years. Valanciunas might not be as skilled as Kanter, but there’s a much higher defensive ceiling and still room to improve offensively.
This deal would also have little effect on the Raptors’ free agency plans next summer, outside of hurting any long shot dreams of Kevin Durant. Valanciunas currently has a cap hold of nearly $12 million for 2016, so the first year of a four-year, $60 million deal would only be worth a couple million more bucks than that hold. Toronto may not have a ton of flexibility anyway if DeMar DeRozan declines his player option and the team wants to give him a huge new contract, but no matter what happens, this new Valanciunas deal really won’t be a burden if it goes down. (Terrence Ross is also up for an extension, but his future in Toronto is murky.)
There are still questions about how good Valanciunas can get and plenty of questions about how good the Raptors can be with the core they have in place. But anytime you can lock up a productive 23-year-old 7-footer at a reasonable rate, you have to do it. It looks like Toronto is doing just that.