Memphis Grizzlies: Jonas Valanciunas Opts for NBA Free Agency, But Could He Return?

Jonas Valanciunas has opted out of the final year of his contract, but there is a good chance he will not leave the Memphis Grizzlies.

The wait is finally over. 27-year-old Jonas Valanciunas has officially opted out of the final year of his contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, and many may think he is crazy for doing such a thing. He could have earned a guaranteed $17.6 million next season, but he stuck to his word. Money is not everything to Valanciunas, but winning is.

In the seven seasons in which Jonas Valanciunas has played in the NBA, he has reached the NBA Playoffs in all but his rookie season of 2012-13 and the current 2018-19 season. The sudden difference? He was dealt mid-season by the Toronto Raptors, thus landing with a rebuilding Memphis Grizzlies squad.

Not all was bad for Valanciunas. He regained priority at the center position and finished the season with one of the best stretches of his professional career. He proved he is in fact worth $17.6 million to an NBA team. However, he wants to taste winning once again. It has to be draining on him to watch his former Raptors teammates duel in the NBA Finals while he is stuck sitting at home.

Given his desire to win, it should come as no surprise to see Jonas Valanciunas opt out of his deal. He wants to win, and Memphis was stuck in a rut this past season. $17.6 million is a lot of cash, and some may think he is overpaid. Still, centers today that can be a nightly 20-point/10-rebound threat (as Jonas was in his short tenure with the Grizzlies) are worth the cash. Memphis needs as many rebounders and go-to scorers as they can snag, and Valanciunas fits satisfies the criteria.

Jonas Valanciunas is now placed within the open market, the NBA Free Agency pool, which is surprisingly littered with intriguing centers, both young and old. Even with the stiff competition he has welcomed, he sticks out as one of the top names in the pack due to his winning nature and a stellar ending to the 2018-19 season.

Now that Jonas officially opted out of his deal, it still does not end the Memphis Grizzlies’ chances of retaining the veteran center. According to ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, Valanciunas’ intention is to sign a long-term deal with the Grizzlies during NBA Free Agency, which opens on June 30th at 6:00 PM Eastern Time.

Again, this should come as no surprise from Jonas Valanciunas. He has stated this very scenario multiple times in the early offseason. He wants to win, and he acknowledges that the more cash he leaves on the table, the better quality of teammates the Memphis Grizzlies can bring in for him. It is smart, and it is a winning move off the court.

Valanciunas could potentially sign a two- or three-year deal, for example, while accepting a few million dollars less per season, in order to free additional cap space for the Memphis Grizzlies to spend on other free agent names in the coming summers.

While this sounds promising, it is all verbal for now. There is nothing in writing. Nothing has been formally agreed upon between Jonas and the Grizzlies. Anything could happen, such as a change of heart from Valanciunas, perhaps stemming from a lucrative offer from an opposing team.

Another key aspect that must be kept in mind is what Memphis does with Mike Conley. Just this week, Adrian Wojnarowski mentioned three teams — the Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, and Boston Celtics — heavily interested in pursuing the Grizzlies’ 12-year veteran point guard. Plus, if Kyrie Irving leaves the Boston Celtics via NBA Free Agency, that will further enhance their trade interest in Conley.

Keeping Conley would also enhance the Memphis Grizzlies’ chances of winning and reaching the NBA Playoffs. This may be a huge reason why Jonas Valanciunas decided to opt out. In doing so, he can work on a new deal with the Grizzlies if they keep Mike Conley for one more season, and if not, he can bolt to a winning team. The ball remains in Jonas’ court.

With the 2019 NBA Draft less than one week away, there could be some movement with Conley in the coming days. However, the most likely scenario is for this storyline to continue throughout the summer and NBA Free Agency. The Jonas Valanciunas saga is far from over.