Valanciunas’s age and salary
One consideration for why the Toronto Raptors are playing Serge Ibaka ahead of Jonas Valanciunas is salary. Ibaka makes over $21 million a year. Valanciunas makes $16.5 million.
Serge Ibaka was brought to Toronto before the trade deadline during the 2016-17 season. He then re-signed, with Toronto, in the summer of 2017. Ibaka, was essentially ineffective, during the Raptors playoff run last spring, after game 1, of the first round series against the Wizards.
While much is made of how ineffective Valanciunas is defensively, Ibaka’s disappearance last spring was shocking and disappointing. However, at $21 million a year and three years older than Valanciunas, it would be harder to move an ineffective role player like Ibaka with a huge price tag.
Nurse’s decision to start Ibaka, in a smaller lineup, allows him to out quick bigger centers, on offense. He can pull those defenders away, from the basket, with his ability to stretch the floor and shoot, from behind the three-point arc. If Ibaka cannot be traded the Raptors need him producing, as he is, right now. Ibaka producing could raise his trade value.
For his part, Valanciunas is willing to do what helps the team. Valanciunas stated:
“Doesn’t matter if I’m first unit, second unit. Same thing for Serge. I’m starting with Pascal or Serge or OG at the four. Different people, same mindset. Probably that is our advantage and that is our strength".
Nick Nurse needs to better recognize match ups where Valanciunas’ size can help the team. Team president MasaiUjiri and general manager Bobby Webster need to be careful that Valanciunas doesn’t tire of the constant role changes and doubt about his game.
Both Ibaka and Valanciunas are out of contract, at the end of the 2019-2020 season. Kawhi Leonard may possibly be gone after this season. Lowry is under contract only to 2020. The Raptors may want a productive player at center, like Valanciunas, who will still be in his prime to ease the roster transition that’s sure to come soon.