Jonas Valanciunas has started negotiations on the release agreement with his team in Lithuania, sources said, an important step in the 2011 lottery pick finally being able to join the Raptors.
While it has been expected all along that Valanciunas would be in the NBA in 2012-13 after a final season in his native country, news of talks with Lietuvos Rytas are a comforting development for Toronto fans who missed having their center of the future in 2011-12.
The release agreement is part of the process before Valanciunas can pay the $2.4-million buyout to the team in Lithuania and sign in Toronto. The Raptors are allowed to pay $550,000 of that.
There is no timetable for Valanciunas to join the Raptors and end the uncertainty that started last June, when NBA teams became concerned about the absence of a buyout in his contract, creating the possibility he would have to play in Europe for multiple seasons. That never happened. Toronto took him fifth overall in an investment for the future and quickly, and thankfully, saw Valanciunas sign a new deal in Lithuania that allowed him to get out of the deal in the 2012 offseason.
One non-Toronto executive called Valanciunas “a future franchise center” before the 2011 draft. While not every team shared the belief that he would be a star, there was a strong belief the 7-foot, 240-pounder would have a long and successful NBA career and that the Raptors made a sound choice despite the wait.
“I have no doubt that is the right pick or was the right pick for us,” Bryan Colangelo, the president and general manager, told NBA.com in March. “But it certainly wasn’t one that would gather instant gratification. There were other players on the board… that our fans and perhaps the media wanted us to take because they might come in and be an immediate-impact pick, if you will. But we made a long-term decision. We drafted a 19-year-old center prospect and despite the pressure of picking a so-called sexy pick or someone that might be a more-popular pick, we made the pick that we felt was the best decision, long term and short term, for the franchise because it fit right into this building process that we’re going through right now.”