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Jonas Valanciunas’ contract with Memphis is declining over three years

Jonas Valanciunas

Eyebrows raised when the Memphis Grizzlies re-signed Jonas Valanciunas to a three-year, $45 million contract in free agency. Not because the seven-year pro, coming off arguably his best season in the NBA, isn’t worth that salary in a vacuum, but due to the fact that rising star Jaren Jackson Jr. will be best utilized at center going forward. Was it really in the Grizzlies’ long-term best interest to pay Valanciunas¬† starting-caliber money when they would eventually be better off with Jackson manning the middle?

It’s still a fair question. But given the knowledge that Valanciunas’ new contract decreases in value from its first-year salary, per Early Bird Rights’ Jeff Siegel, Memphis is in a more flexible position than it seemed initially.

Valanciunas, along with Delon Wright, was dealt to the Grizzlies from the Toronto Raptors at least season’s trade deadline in exchange for Marc Gasol, a move that helped propel the Raptors to their first championship. In 19 games with Memphis before suffering a season-ending ankle sprain on March 31st, Valanciunas averaged 19.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks on 54.5 percent shooting, numbers made all the more impressive considering he played just 27.7 minutes per game.

The Grizzlies suddenly boast one of the most promising young cores in the NBA less than six months removed from trading longtime stalwarts Gasol and Mike Conley, who was sent to the Utah Jazz in June. In Jackson, No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant, and fellow first-rounder Brandon Clarke, Memphis has the early makings of a future contender, both with and without Valanciunas.