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Pelicans sign Jonas Valanciunas to two-year extension valued at 30.1 million

New Orleans locks in a versatile offensive center for less money than Steven Adams was paid a year ago

New Orleans Pelicans v Utah Jazz

The New Orleans Pelicans and Jonas Valanciunas came to terms on a new contract extension today, agreeing to pay the 29-year-old center $30.1 million over the next two seasons, per ESPN’s Andrew Lopez.

It may feel like déjà vu from a year ago, but it isn’t quite the same. Sure, the Pelicans are committing themselves to a center without first seeing how the pieces fit together on the court; however, this move locks in a much more versatile offensive center for less money than the organization had agreed to pay Steven Adams upon trading for him from OKC.

As I wrote a few days ago:

The nine-year center is in the midst of his prime, coming off his best season as a pro with the Grizzlies. He averaged 17.1 points and 12.5 rebounds, doing most of his damage in the paint. He is elite in the post and on the glass. Only nine other players hit more field goals in the restricted area, but unlike traditional bigs, Valanciunas proved more than adept from any range.

Restricted Non-restricted midrange 3-pointers
Jonas Valanciunas 67.4 FG% 52.0 FG% 55.8 FG% 36.8 3PT%
Nikola Jokic 70.2 FG% 56.9 FG% 51.5 FG% 38.8 3PT%

Nikola Jokic is obviously the gold standard, but strictly from an efficiency standpoint, Valanciunas compared really well to the MVP candidate last season. Being a reliable weapon that draws the eyes of opposing defenses from various parts of the floor should prove invaluable.

Standing alone, Valanciunas’ extension is very reasonable in the grand scheme of things, placing him right in the middle of paid centers around the league starting next season. And that’s before considering free agents like DeAndre Ayton and Jusuf Nurkic earn new deals.

One interesting question raised by today’s signing, where does this leave Jaxson Hayes? New Orleans’ 21-year-old rising center will be due for a new contract soon, potentially an extension of his own next offseason. If Hayes proves worthy of a new tidy sum, the Pelicans could be on the hook for paying two centers big money starting in the 2023-24 season.

Personally, I don’t see the need for concern today. If Hayes blossoms as everyone hopes, the Pelicans could look to include Valanciunas in a future trade — his deal appears to be team-friendly. If he doesn’t, the Pelicans have insurance in the form of a center who should fit at least reasonably well alongside Zion Williamson.

A somewhat harsh lesson was learned after Adams didn’t prove the answer next to Zion so let’s not rush to final judgement. But locking up a revered player in the paint, who can space the floor sufficiently enough and cleans the glass like so few others — and is coming off the best season of his career — doesn’t feel the boldest of moves. Not at this price.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.