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New Orleans Pelicans Expected to Move on From Starter

Detailed view of the City Edition logo for the New Orleans Pelicans against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of game four of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Smoothie King Center.

After a first-round playoff exit, changes appear to be on the horizon for the New Orleans Pelicans. According to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, expectations are that New Orleans’ starting center, Jonas Valanciunas, will move on this summer. Valanciunas is an unrestricted free agent after spending the last three seasons in New Orleans.

There’s a sense Jonas Valanciunas won’t return as a Pelican this offseason in free agency, I’m told. Valanciunas essentially split center minutes with Larry Nance Jr. this season and was benched often to close games. When Zion is healthy and playing, Valanciunas occupies the paint and clogs driving lanes for Zion. While he’s still a double-double threat, he’s not an ideal fit for this roster, and his near double-double production will likely be more valued by other teams on the unrestricted free-agent market.

Furthermore, Will Guillory, Pelicans staff writer for The Athletic, echoed Scott’s belief, saying he would “be pretty surprised” if Valanciunas returned.

I’d be pretty surprised if he was back because of how they were treating his spot in the rotation late in the season. There were a few times when they didn’t play him in the second half and prioritized having space around Zion, and I think they’ll want that in a center of the future next to Zion moving forward.

Last season, Valanciunas started all 82 games for the Pelicans. However, he averaged just 23.5 minutes per game, the lowest full-season mark of his career since the 2017-18 season. In that time, Valanciunas averaged 12.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting 55.9% from the field and 30.8% from beyond the arc.

New Orleans Pelicans Expected to Move on From Starter

Jonas Valanciunas is Not the Only Pelicans Starter to Monitor

In hopes of re-tooling their roster, the Pelicans may also trade star forward Brandon Ingram. According to Scotto, Ingram “is considered the most likely player to be traded by rival executives who spoke with HoopsHype.”

Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram is considered the most likely player to be traded by rival executives who spoke with HoopsHype. Those executives believe the fit with Ingram and Zion isn’t ideal on the court. With Ingram entering the final season of his contract at $36 million, he’s been a trade candidate before, but he’s a prime trade candidate now.

The team most heavily linked to Ingram is the Philadelphia 76ers. Last week, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggested the 76ers will monitor Ingram, along with other star wings, this offseason.

Furthermore, Scotto has suggested the Pelicans may also move on from small forward Naji Marshall.

The Last Word on Jonas Valanciunas

In his three seasons with the Pelicans, Valanciunas has been a solid starting center. However, it makes sense for the team to build their roster around star Zion Williamson and his strengths. Ultimately, it appears the Pelicans do not view Valanciunas as the best option at center to achieve this. It will be interesting to see where the Lithuanian native ends up playing during his age-32 season. Additionally, the Pelicans’ quest for a new starting center is another story worth following.


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