Jonas Valanciunas

World Cup Notes: USA-Canada Rivalry, Valanciunas, Latvia

They both fell short of the gold medal game, but Sunday’s meeting between Team USA and Canada could be the beginning of a significant rivalry in international basketball, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. The teams will face off for third place as the Canadians hope to win their first-ever World Cup medal and their first in any tournament since the 1936 Olympics.

Both countries have rosters filled with NBA talent, and both had successful runs in the World Cup before slipping in Friday’s semifinals. The U.S. lost to Germany by two points, and Canada fell to Serbia by nine.

“They haven’t won a medal since the 1930s, so they’re coming for us,” Tyrese Haliburton said. “I think both of our countries will expect to see each other for the coming years. So it seems like this is kind of the start.”

Familiarity is part of the storyline as players bring their NBA rivalries into international competition. There are even some ex-teammates involved as Jaren Jackson Jr. will face Dillon Brooks for the first time since Brooks left the Grizzlies in free agency to sign with the Rockets.

“I hope Dillon does talk trash,” Jackson said. “Otherwise it wouldn’t be him. It wouldn’t be real.”

There’s more on the World Cup:

  • Following an All-NBA season, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been one of the biggest stars of the tournament, notes Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. The Canadian guard is sixth overall in World Cup scoring at 23.6 PPG and he’s number one in terms of scoring efficiency. “It’s the change of pace, yeah,” Thunder and Canadian teammate Luguentz Dort said. “Also, it’s the way he explodes, the way he can get off the defender to rise for his shot. The way that he handles the ball, the way that he creates for himself. There’s so much more.”
  • Jonas Valanciunas has represented Lithuania in every major tournament since 2011 and he’s not ready to think about stopping, per George Efkarpidis of Eurohoops. The 31-year-old center considers it an important part of his basketball responsibilities. “I feel proud playing for my country,” Valanciunas said. “That is what I can give for my country. This is how I can put my country on the map. I am going to keep doing that (as long as) my body lets me and the team needs me.”
  • Latvia wrapped up the No. 5 spot in its first-ever World Cup, defeating Lithuania by 35 points on Saturday. It’s an impressive statement from a team that played without Kristaps Porzingis, who sat out the tournament to recover from plantar fasciitis, and lost captain Dairis Bertans to an injury, observes Aris Barkas of Eurohoops.

Pelicans Notes: Valanciunas, Lewis, Ingram, Zion

The Pelicans explored changes at center during the offseason, but it appears Jonas Valanciunas has the starting job locked up heading into training camp, William Guillory of The Athletic writes in a mailbag column. Although defensive issues kept him off the court in late-game situations last season, Valanciunas still provides a reliable presence in the middle with only 11 total missed games over the past two years.

New Orleans reportedly reached out to the Cavaliers this summer about trading for Jarrett Allen, but there’s currently “little traction” on a deal between the teams, according to Guillory. The Pelicans also inquired about Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart, but also to no avail.

Valanciunas has an expiring $15.4MM contract, so he’s likely to be the subject of trade rumors until the February deadline. Guillory expects New Orleans to continue to seek upgrades at center by offering a package of Valanciunas, point guard Kira Lewis and draft picks.

There’s more from New Orleans:

  • An extension for Trey Murphy won’t take effect until the 2025/26 season, so Pelicans management has two more years to determine if the current core can contend for a title, Guillory observes in the same piece. That group, which also includes Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum and Herbert Jones, showed promised in 2021/22 but fell short of the playoffs last season. The front office will likely try to avoid the luxury tax again this year, Guillory states, but there’s a belief that this is the most talented group the franchise has ever assembled.
  • Pelicans fans shouldn’t be concerned about Ingram’s struggles with Team USA, Guillory adds. Ingram was recently replaced in the starting lineup because he has failed to mesh with the first unit. Guillory notes that Ingram has already proven his status as an elite player, but says it would help if he could show an ability to adjust to a complementary role because he may be in that position more often on a fully healthy Pelicans team.
  • Guillory tweeted workout photos of Williamson along with the statement, “Been hearing good things about the work Zion’s putting in this summer.” Guillory added that Williamson is “really focused” on getting ready for a long season and wrote, “Think he’s gonna come in with a chip on his shoulder.” Injuries limited the 23-year-old forward to 29 games last season, and his health is obviously crucial to the Pelicans’ playoff hopes.

Pelicans’ Valanciunas Talks Trade Rumors, Zion, More

Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas had his name pop up in trade rumors multiple times this offseason. According to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, New Orleans explored the possibility of acquiring a more switchable center, inquiring on players like Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen and Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart. But with training camps just a few weeks away, Valanciunas remains on the roster.

Speaking to Fischer, Valanciunas expressed interest in staying in New Orleans beyond his current deal. And head of basketball operations David Griffin and head coach Willie Green were in Manila on Tuesday to watch the veteran big man play for Lithuania against Montenegro, tweets Donatas Urbonas of (Griffin and Green will also visit with Team USA’s Brandon Ingram during their trip, Fischer notes).

But with lucrative new contracts for young frontcourt players like Zion Williamson and Herbert Jones on the team’s books beginning this season, extending Valanciunas at a rate anywhere near his current $15.4MM salary might be a long shot, Fischer writes.

If the 31-year-old doesn’t sign an extension with the Pelicans, he’ll likely remain a trade candidate throughout the 2023/24 season, since he’s on an expiring contract. However, he tells Fischer he’s not bothered by the fact that his future is uncertain.

“You can’t be safe all the time and sitting and know where you’re going to be the next day,” Valanciunas said. “You have to expect everything. There’s no hard feelings. Trades happen. It’s not like an unusual thing.”

Here are a few more highlights from Valanciunas’ conversation with Fischer:

On his attempts to develop a three-point shot:

“I don’t want to be stretching out. I want to be a down-low player. My main game is going to be in the paint, always. Set screens, roll hard. Do damage inside on the low post. But when they’re plugging the paint, when they’re rotating, when they’re leaving you alone, being able to knock down a three-point shot, this is what I’m still working on.”

On how good Williamson can be when he’s healthy:

“He has the skill set and the first step, which I feel bad for people who’s guarding him. It’s unbelievable things. When you’re just watching him play, you feel like, ‘Wow, what the f–k is going on?’ His power, his highlights, talk for himself.”

On his post-retirement plans:

“I want to have a feel of basketball, no matter what. Playing, doing some other jobs. Coaching, front office. No matter what, I want to be connected to basketball. So that’s what my next step is gonna be.”

International Notes: Batum, Randle, Lithuania, Tubelis

Clippers forward Nicolas Batum is playing for France at this year’s World Cup and intends to suit up for the national team at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. However, next year’s Olympics tournament is expected to be the last time Batum represents France in an international competition.

Batum’s wife, Lily Batum, indicated in a tweet that the veteran NBA wing will retire from France’s national team after the 2024 Olympics. Her tweet also suggested that Nicolas will retire as an NBA player following the final year of his contract with the Clippers, though she later clarified in a follow-up tweet that that decision hasn’t been made yet.

Batum, who entered the NBA in 2008 and has spent 15 seasons in the league, will turn 35 later this year. He has spent the last three seasons with the Clippers, but has seen his playing time dip a little in each season, from 27.4 minutes per game in 2020/21 to 24.8 MPG in ’21/22 and 21.9 MPG in ’22/23. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2024.

Here are a few more notes from around the international basketball world:

  • AEK Athens and former NBA guard Chasson Randle have agreed to a one-year deal, according to Stavros Barbarousis of Eurohoops. Randle, who has played in a handful of professional leagues around the world, also has 119 NBA appearances on his résumé, having spent time with the Sixers, Knicks, Wizards, Warriors, and Magic between 2016-21.
  • After defeating Finland in an exhibition game on Monday – overcoming a 32-point outing from Lauri Markkanen – Lithuania has finalized its roster for the 2023 World Cup, per Eurohoops. The roster includes a handful of current or former NBA players, headlined by Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas. However, NBA rookie Azuolas Tubelis, who signed a two-way contract with the Sixers last month, didn’t make the final cut.
  • In case you missed it, veteran NBA wing Sterling Brown completed a two-year deal with Germany’s Alba Berlin. We have the full story here.

Pelicans Notes: Williamson, Ingram, Alvarado, Lewis

William Guillory and John Hollinger of The Athletic take stock of where things stand for the Pelicans entering 2023/24, with both writers noting that it will be a critical season for the organization.

New Orleans doesn’t have much choice but to see whether or not a core of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram can be successful together, according to Hollinger, despite the duo only playing 12 games together over the past two seasons. However, he would seriously consider trading one of them next summer if the team has another disappointing season.

As Guillory points out, the Pelicans will be facing salary cap difficulties in both the short and long term, so the pressure entering ’23/24 will be much higher than in previous years. Finding a replacement at center for Jonas Valanciunas, who is entering the final year of his contract, should be a priority going forward if the team doesn’t plan to retain him, according to both authors.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Technology company Ankr PBC has filed a civil lawsuit against Williamson, his stepfather and his mother, writes Brett Martel of The Associated Press. The lawsuit alleges Williamson and his family failed to pay back $1.8MM of a $2MM loan. Ankr had hoped Williamson would be a spokesperson for the company, with his stepfather, Lee Anderson, serving as his representative during negotiations, per Martel. Anderson is the person who requested the loan a couple years ago, the lawsuit states.
  • Jose Alvarado is still recovering from the stress reaction in his right tibia, which he sustained in February, and the injury will prevent him from representing Puerto Rico during the upcoming World Cup, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN. Pelicans sources tell Lopez that the move is precautionary, but it certainly seems somewhat problematic that a recent MRI indicated Alvarado’s tibia isn’t fully healed after five months. The point guard’s minimum-salary contract for 2023/24 is fully non-guaranteed, as we noted earlier today. That’s not to say he’s in any danger of being released — prior to going down with the leg injury, he was a regular part of the Pelicans’ rotation, averaging 9.0 points, 3.0 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 21.5 minutes per night (61 games).
  • Former lottery pick Kira Lewis remains a trade candidate worth monitoring, per Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, who notes that dumping Lewis’ salary would take New Orleans out of luxury tax territory. The 22-year-old returned from a torn ACL last season, averaging 4.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in limited action (9.4 minutes per night in 25 games).

Stein’s Latest: Wood, Saric, Bol, Mavs, Pelicans, Reed

Christian Wood and Dario Saric are two of the top unrestricted free agents who have yet to find new teams. There’s a good reason for that, according to Marc Stein at Substack: Both big men have only received contract offers for the veteran’s minimum thus far and are presumably looking for more money.

Stein says Saric will likely land with the Warriors if he’s unable to find a higher-paying offer. The Croatian big man is reportedly Golden State’s top remaining target.

Here’s more from Stein:

  • The Magic released Bol Bol on Tuesday and he cleared the waiver wire despite having a relatively modest $2.2MM salary. The Suns have a “level of interest” in the 7’2″ big man, according to Stein. John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM said on Thursday (via Twitter) that he believed Phoenix might “take a hard look” at potentially signing Bol. Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports reported when Bol was waived that the Suns contemplated trading for him on the night of last month’s draft.
  • The Mavericks aren’t done reshaping their roster this offseason, Stein reports. Dallas is expected to trade Tim Hardaway Jr. at some point, with JaVale McGee another candidate to be on the move, whether it’s via trade or being waived. Stein also hears Theo Pinson‘s time with the Mavs is likely over. The veteran guard remains an unrestricted free agent.
  • The Pelicans are just above the luxury tax threshold and have reportedly been active in trade talks for weeks. Like Fischer, Stein hears New Orleans is shopping guard Kira Lewis Jr. and center Jonas Valanciunas, with Lewis’ name surfacing more frequently in recent days. The Pelicans also unsuccessfully attempted to pry Jarrett Allen away from the Cavaliers, according to Stein.
  • There hasn’t been much buzz about possible offer sheets for restricted free agent Paul Reed, but Stein writes that the Jazz are worth monitoring. However, the Sixers are reportedly keen on retaining Reed, so it’s unclear if that might work out for Utah. The Jazz also already have several frontcourt players, so Reed would be a bit of an odd fit from a roster standpoint.

Fischer’s Latest: Bridges, Washington, Pelicans, Dosunmu, More

Prior to signing his $7.9MM qualifying offer, Miles Bridges was seeking around $25MM per year in talks with the Hornets, sources tell Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. However, Charlotte was unwilling to approach that figure, which is why Bridges’ representatives quickly opted for unrestricted free agency in 2024.

Bridges was ineligible to be included in a sign-and-trade because he wasn’t on the team’s roster last season, having missed all of 2022/23 after facing a felony domestic violence charge. He agreed to a plea deal and was subsequently suspended by the NBA, who will require him to sit out the first 10 games of ’23/24.

Prior to that incident, Bridges was viewed as one of the top free agents of the 2022 class, having averaged 20.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 3.8 APG on 49.1% shooting in 80 games (35.5 MPG) in ’21/22. There was talk of him receiving $30MM annually in an offer sheet last year, according to Fischer, with the Pacers, Pistons and Grizzlies all linked to the 25-year-old forward.

Here’s more from Fischer’s latest story for Yahoo Sports:

  • Hornets restricted free agent forward P.J. Washington might have to wait a while in order to find the type of contract he’s seeking, and it might have to come via sign-and-trade. Marc Stein first reported that the former first-round pick is seeking around $18MM annually. According to Fischer, Washington is looking for $80MM over four years. Fischer writes that several agents seem to be pointing to Keldon Johnson‘s rookie scale extension with the Spurs as a benchmark of sorts in negotiations.
  • The Pelicans continue to gauge the trade market for reserve guard Kira Lewis Jr. and starting center Jonas Valanciunas, sources tell Fischer. Lewis is entering the final year of his rookie scale contract and could become a restricted free agent next summer, while Valanciunas’ $15.4MM deal is expiring.
  • Fischer hears the recent conversations between the Hawks and Raptors haven’t been very productive when it comes to a potential Pascal Siakam deal. On an unrelated note, Fischer also reports there’s optimism within Atlanta’s organization that the team will be able to extend Dejounte Murray.
  • The Raptors have expressed interest in Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu, Fischer reports. However, it’s unclear if they’ll try to make a run at the restricted free agent via an offer sheet or sign-and-trade.
  • Like other reporters, Fischer has heard there’s mutual interest in a reunion between the Sixers and restricted free agent big man Paul Reed.

Trade Rumors: Lillard, Valanciunas, N. Powell, Wizards, K. Martin

Following Monday’s meeting with Damian Lillard and his agent, Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin put out a brief statement indicating that the team remains committed to building around its star point guard. Appearing on ESPN’s Get Up on Tuesday morning (YouTube link), Brian Windhorst provided some additional information on how that meeting went.

“This was the meeting that a lot of the league was watching to see if Damian Lillard requested a trade, and he absolutely did not,” Windhorst said (hat tip to RealGM). “From what I understand, the tenor of the meeting was that he doesn’t want to put pressure on the Blazers, that he wants to see what they do in free agency, and he’s going to give them that time do that.

“This is an interesting strategy move. He said at the end of the season ‘Get me veterans.’ The draft came and went, no veterans. He’s still not pressing, from what I have been told. He’s still going to give the Blazers every opportunity to work through this free agency process this week, whether it’s through trades or signing players.”

As Windhorst points out, given that no trade request from Lillard seems imminent, teams like the Heat – who were reportedly preparing to make a trade offer for the Blazers star – might have to move forward with their other offseason moves rather than hoping that Lillard’s situation will change.

“This is going to potentially cause some teams that were going to make offers for him to have move on with business,” Windhorst said. “They were waiting to see whether Dame Lillard was going to be on the market before they started to make moves this week. Now, some teams are going to have to make a decision either go forward or wait around. Lillard is going to wait around.”

Here are a few more trade rumors from around the NBA:

  • The Pelicans have made center Jonas Valanciunas available in trade talks as they seek out a big man who is more mobile and more of a rim protector, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, who says New Orleans inquired with the Cavaliers about Jarrett Allen‘s availability. Cleveland has reportedly rebuffed all inquiries for Allen.
  • Clippers swingman Norman Powell is another veteran who is considered available on the trade market, Fischer reports, adding that Powell’s name popped up in rumors when L.A. was trying to acquire Chris Paul from Washington.
  • Speaking of the Wizards, even after flipping Paul to Golden State, they’re still looking to move on from one or two more of their veteran point guards. Sources tell Fischer that Washington is seeking draft assets for Monte Morris and/or Delon Wright.
  • The Rockets have been engaging in more trade talks involving Kenyon Martin Jr. since last week’s draft, Fischer writes. While it’s not clear exactly which teams Houston has talked to recently, Fischer says the Hawks, Suns, and Nets have been cited as possible suitors for Martin dating back to the trade deadline in February.

Pelicans Notes: Valanciunas, Draft Picks, Injuries, Nelson

Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas is entering the final year of his current contract with the club and will be eligible to sign an extension this summer. It remains to be seen whether New Orleans views the veteran big man as part of the team’s future, but Valanciunas tells Kestas Rimkus of (hat tip to that he’d be interested in working out a new deal to stay with the Pelicans.

“We had some talks with (the Pelicans). I think this summer won’t be easy for them because they will have to make a few key decisions. Our season didn’t go as planned, so there will definitely be changes,” Valanciunas said. “… I would like to stay and extend my contract. Obviously, during the season, you try to help the team as much as possible, but when the summer comes, you try to take care of your own things – how to extend the contract and stuff.”

Valanciunas, who will earn approximately $15.4MM in 2023/24, started all 79 games he played for New Orleans in ’22/23. However, head coach Willie Green frequently opted to use Larry Nance Jr. at center during crunch-time minutes in the second half of the season, raising questions about Valanciunas’ role going forward.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Christian Clark of takes a closer look at the first-round picks the Pelicans control in the coming years, observing that the team will be keeping a close eye on the Lakers and Bucks, since those teams still owe New Orleans draft assets from the Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday trades. The Pelicans control the Lakers’ 2024 first-rounder but have the option of acquiring the team’s 2025 pick instead — if LeBron James opts out of his deal with L.A. in 2024, deferring that first-rounder could be an intriguing option, Clark notes.
  • After another season affected by injuries, the Pelicans will restructure their player care and performance team, sources tell Clark. Star forwards Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram missed more games (90) than they played (74) in 2022/23.
  • Hiring Aaron Nelson away from Phoenix to run the club’s player care and performance department was one of David Griffin‘s first moves when he joined the Pelicans in 2019, according to Clark, who notes that Nelson “did not come cheaply” and that the team approved several of his requested changes to the practice facility. However, Nelson may not be back with the Pels at all next season — if he is, it won’t be in the same role, Clark writes. As Clark details, there have been complaints during Nelson’s tenure about his inflexibility, and he clashed with Williamson and former head coach Stan Van Gundy.

Pelicans Notes: Valanciunas, McCollum, Murphy

If the Pelicans decide to shake things up this summer, Jonas Valanciunas could be on the move, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes. Valanciunas will have an expiring $15.435MM contract next season and the Pelicans’ coaching staff showed a lack of trust in the veteran center during high-leverage moments, Clark observes. He averaged 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

We have more on the Pelicans:

  • The fact that CJ McCollum played 37 games with a torn ligament in the thumb of his shooting hand shouldn’t be overlooked, Rod Walker of the Times-Picayune opines. By doing so, McCollum displayed the importance of leading by example, a role he embraces both on and off the court. Despite the injury, McCollum averaged 20.9 points and 5.7 assists in 75 games this season.
  • The growth of Trey Murphy in his second season was one of the few bright spots for the franchise in 2022/23, Clark writes in a separate story. Murphy raised his scoring average from 5.4 points per game as a rookie to 14.5 PPG this season. He has developed into a prolific shooter, averaging 48.4% from the field overall, 40.6% on 3-point attempts and 90.5% from the free throw line.
  • In case you missed it, top executive David Griffin said he didn’t anticipate making “huge moves” this offseason.