So You’re Telling Me There’s A Chance

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Didn’t expect to see this today:

The Toronto Raptors drafted Jonas Valanciunas with the No. 5 pick in the 2011 NBA draft knowing it would be at least a year before he came to the NBA.

But a source close to the team told ESPN.com on Saturday that there’s a small chance they might be able to get him this season.

The source said that the team reached out to Valanciunas’ agent over the weekend to gauge the center’s interest in joining the Raptors in 2011-12. If Valanciunas has interest, the Toronto would have to work out a buyout with his team in Lithuania, Lietuvos Rytas.

Via Valanciunas To Play In The NBA This Season?, 12/3/11

I can feel it, Toronto fans are getting excited. Barring a big name frontcourt addition, they’ve been resigned to the fact that this year’s version of the team would likely look very similar to the one that finished 22-60 last year. While there are plenty of holes to fill on this roster, this is likely the way to go — let Dwane Casey try to establish a new identity, but don’t sacrifice cap flexibility and don’t grab players who aren’t going to be productive a few years from now. Let the young players develop, emphasize defense, and lose, lose, lose on your way to drafting someone like Harrison Barnes. Picking Valanciunas was absolutely the right call if the Raptors thought he was the best player available, but in making the pick they knew that they’d be asking their fans to sit through another down year without even a new young player to latch onto. Now? According to Chad Ford’s report, maybe they won’t have to wait for their rookie. Hooray!

Just a couple of things to keep in mind here: first, as Ford mentions, as of draft time Valanciunas told teams and reporters that he wasn’t ready for the NBA yet. He’s still a skinny 19-year-old. He plays with fire and has enough NBA skills that he should be able to crack the rotation right away, but it will not be the least bit surprising when he’s bullied by bigger players. This will be true if he comes over in 2012-2013 as expected, doubly true if sooner. You’ll need to be patient with him. Second, even if he does want to come to Toronto immediately, I’m not sure why Lietuvos Rytas would let go of him. Ford mentions that they failed to qualify for the Euroleague and they need money, but NBA teams were prohibited from paying international teams more than $500,000 in a buyout under the old CBA. It’s possible this rule has been changed and we haven’t heard about it yet, but if it’s the same as the old system then any additional money would have to come out of Jonas’s pocket. Is the team so cash-strapped that $500,000 this year and no more Valanciunas is better than keeping him for the rest of the reason and getting $500,000 next year? I have my doubts, and that’s likely why it’s just a “small chance.” Still, it’s a chance. A chance the Raptors’ season will be a bit more interesting. With rebuilding teams, interesting is all you can ask for.

Seth Carstens