TORONTO — Even if Jonas Valanciunas were to come to Toronto Raptors next October — or whenever NBA training camps begin with a lockout looming — Bryan Colangelo would have had trouble selling him to the masses.
After all, Valanciunas brings to mind international failures of the past: Serbian centre Alex Radojevic, Brazilian centre Rafael Araujo and yes, the unreliability of Italy’s Andrea Bargnani.
However, Valanciunas, the fifth pick from Thursday night’s draft, will not be in Toronto next season. The seven-foot centre has a three-year contract with Lietuvos Rytas of the Lithuanian league. A source confirms the Raptors and Valanciunas have reached a deal with Lietuvos that will have Valanciunas play next season in Lithuania, and then come over to the Raptors for the 2012-13 season.
The deal also means the Raptors will have some relationship with the club next year as far as Valanciunas’s development is concerned.
Financial details of the deal were not immediately clear, but the buyout for the 19-year-old Valanciunas was reportedly worth $2.4 million US. By rule, an NBA team can contribute just $500,000 to a buyout before it counts against the salary cap.
“I would like to come here as soon as possible because it’s my dream,” Valanciunas said as he was introduced to the reporters on Friday. “I am working on the court. It’s my job, on the court. There are agents who are working on the business things. I’ll leave that job for them.”
As for that job on the court, the message seems simple: get stronger.
At 240 pounds, Valanciunas is not nearly strong enough to play centre during a rigorous 82-game NBA season. There is hope: Valanciunas compares himself to Pau Gasol and admires Dwight Howard. In Lithuania, he lives in the paint. There is no real comparison to make to Bargnani.
He will be playing for Lithuania at the FIBA under-19 world championship in Latvia, which begin next week. He is also hoping to play for the senior team at this summer’s European championship. It would be the opportunity of a lifetime, as the event will be taking place in Lithuania.
“In Lithuania, basketball is like a second religion,” Valanciunas said. “Everybody loves basketball.
“I’m ready for that because it will help me to get better, to come to the NBA maybe for next year. With the senior team, I’ll get a lot of experience. It helps me.”
The Raptors are also consigned to having to make the best of the reality that he will be in Lithuania for another year. Colangelo is doing his best to find the positives in that.
For one, Valanciunas would not be ready to contribute in a significant way if he were to come to Toronto next year — again, assuming next year happens. As well, Lietuvos’ new coach is Aleksander Dzikic, who just happened to spend a few years with the Minnesota Timberwolves when Dwane Casey, the Raptors’ head coach, worked there.
“If he does play in Lithuania, we’re not looking at that as a negative situation either. In fact, it could be very positive,” Colangelo said. “If the right working environment is agreed to, perhaps even as part of our buyout, we can look at it as an opportunity of growth and preparation for him to be ready for that transition in a subsequent season.”
The Raptors also picked up options on DeMar DeRozan and James Johnson as well as last year’s top draft choice, Ed Davis. All three players’ deals are now guaranteed through the 2012-13 season.
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