NBA Rumor: Fred VanVleet Free Agency

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The Toronto Raptors announced Tuesday they have re-signed free agent guard Fred VanVleet to a multi-year contract. Per team policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. “In the last four years, we’ve seen Fred move from leader of Raptors 905, to leader of the Bench Mob to a leader of a championship team. The constant has been his leadership, no matter his role,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said. “We look forward to the coming years with Fred as one of the voices and hearts of our team. We bet on Fred.”

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Ordinarily there might be a feeding frenzy for a player like VanVleet, a proven scorer who, at 26, is just hitting his prime. But this is a quirky market. VanVleet telegraphed his intentions on a recent podcast appearance with J.J. Redick, saying he wanted to “cash out” this offseason; that, sources say, can be translated as VanVleet looking for a deal in the $20 million per year neighborhood. Detroit’s interest in VanVleet is mild, a source said. The Knicks could give a long look, as VanVleet fills a badly needed position and is a proven winner, no small thing for a young Knicks roster in need of leaders. But will anyone outbid Toronto? The Raptors are committed to bringing back VanVleet, with Toronto hoping to keep its core together until the next summer, when (again) they hope to be players for a big ticket free agent.

In his first year as a starter, the former Wichita State star thrived, averaging 17.6 points, 6.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals while shooting 39.0 percent from 3-point range. He is on the Knicks’ radar, according to sources, though it is uncertain if they see him as a maximum contract player. The Knicks are in desperate need of a point guard, though, unless they can find that player in the 2020 NBA Draft. The Raptors do own his Bird rights, which means they can go over the salary cap to re-sign him.

VanVleet is the only point guard who projects to be worth starter money, putting him in a commanding position in a market where multiple teams figure to be looking at point guards. In particular, New York and Detroit loom as possibilities and both have max cap room, if he doesn’t return to Toronto. VanVleet is good, but the other allure here is that the 26-year-old is relatively young for an unrestricted free agent, so on a three- or four-year deal, a team is figuring to lock up the best seasons of his career. His intangibles likely add luster, as his rep is as one of the league’s smartest and most respected players. That said, there isn’t a ton of upside here, and it’s possible that VanVleet’s fit in Toronto — where he can alternate playing on or off the ball — might not work as well in a place like Detroit, where he would be asked to command the offense.

“You want to start with whoever our free agents are,” Ujiri said. “There’s a priority for Fred. We also have to look at the game and see where the game is going. We are all waiting on the cap to see where the numbers fall. We also have to look at free agency in 2021. We have to look at the short-term future and the long-term future. “This is where we really have to buckle down and make an assessment of what bubble basketball was against what the outside-the-bubble basketball was. This is our time. You support as much as you want during the bubble, during the playoffs. But now is the time to work.

Finally, there is one other outside-the-box option — going much bigger and making a play for Toronto’s Fred VanVleet. He is the best free-agent point guard by a mile. The Hawks would have to be comfortable starting VanVleet next to Young and then sliding him over to the point when Young checks out. VanVleet is generously listed at 6-1, so that leaves the Hawks very small in the backcourt. But he is built like a bowling ball and handles bigger players well. This would be expensive. VanVleet will have multiple suitors, likely including Detroit, New York and his own Toronto Raptors, and his price tag is going to be in the $20 million-per-year range for three or four years. But he definitely would solve the problem.

I’ll mention one other guy since I’ve heard his name connected to the Knicks: Fred Van Vleet. He would likely be a decent value. I have him projected at a $20.7 million valuation next season, and the Knicks would be buying his age 26 through 29 seasons on a four-year deal — presumably his prime years. The Knicks should walk away if the annual price gets too high, but at something around $20 million a year, he’s a solid value who still lets the Knicks have max room in 2021.

VanVleet is in the midst of his best season, averaging 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game in his first year as a full-time starter. He’s in position to command a significant raise on his current $9.35MM salary, but reduced revenue due to the league’s hiatus figures to lessen the value of his next contract. “I think about it. I’m human,” VanVleet said. “I feel like I worked myself in good position. I was having a hell of a year and I was planning on having a great playoffs to cap that off. I think I was in good shape. And I think, more so than worrying about what would’ve, could’ve, should’ve happened is more so like, what’s going to happen? Are they going to move the dates around? Does free agency move? How does it affect the cap? Those types of things are more so what I’m thinking about versus, ‘Oh, woe is me.’”

VanVleet is in the midst of his best season, averaging 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game in his first year as a full-time starter. He’s in position to command a significant raise on his current $9.35MM salary, but reduced revenue due to the league’s hiatus figures to lessen the value of his next contract. “I think about it. I’m human,” VanVleet said. “I feel like I worked myself in good position. I was having a hell of a year and I was planning on having a great playoffs to cap that off. I think I was in good shape. And I think, more so than worrying about what would’ve, could’ve, should’ve happened is more so like, what’s going to happen? Are they going to move the dates around? Does free agency move? How does it affect the cap? Those types of things are more so what I’m thinking about versus, ‘Oh, woe is me.’”
2 years ago via TSN

The 25-year-old could be raising his price tag with each passing game, especially over this last month, but that’s a good problem for the Raptors to have and something they’ll happily worry about in seven months from now if it means VanVleet continues to blossom in front of their eyes. “I think he’s a heck of a player, man,’ Nurse said. “He guards, he shoots, he runs the team, he’s a winner, makes big shots. I just think his numbers and minutes are way up because the opportunity presented itself and like a lot of guys he’s taking advantage of the opportunity.” “I’m just trying to continue to be better and be a leader on this team and help contribute to wins,” VanVleet said. “I’m most happy with the wins so that’s all that matters.”

Fred VanVleet is now on the final year of his of a two-year deal he signed with the Toronto Raptors last season. Given his stellar performance which paved the way for the franchise’s first-ever title, the guard may be it for a huge payday. He understands, however, that his future is still not etched in stone. There are things that could happen that might lead him to a brand new team. But in a ‘perfect world,’ VanVleet wants to be a Raptor long term. “I’ve been here. This is the team that gave me my chance, I think we understand that. I’m not gonna speak too much on free agency this year just ’cause it’s a business and I have to do what’s best for me and my family,” VanVleet said during an appearance on Tim and Sid on Wednesday. “But, I mean, I’ve been on record about how I feel about this place. This organization knows how I feel about this place. So in a perfect world, we know what would happen.”

HoopsHype: Overall, how was your free-agency experience? I know restricted free agency can be tough for some guys, but it seemed to be pretty easy and quick for you. Fred VanVleet: It was a good experience. I didn’t really know what to expect going into it. But, like you said, it went by pretty easy and fast. It was over with pretty quick. I was kind of anxious going into it, just not knowing what to expect or how things might shake out. I knew where I wanted to be and I had a feeling what Toronto was going to do, but you never really know until it’s actually time to get a deal. Then, once [the free-agency period started], it wrapped up pretty quick.

HoopsHype: Were there any surprises? Everyone imagines free agency, but then sometimes it’s different than they expected. Did any aspect surprise you? Fred VanVleet: You never really know what’s going to happen until you’re actually in it. I had been given some indications [that certain teams would pursue me] from different people around the league. We had a network of people around the league so we could find out what other teams might be interested. But, again, you never really know [if the interest is real] until they actually throw an offer at you when free agency officially starts. There were some surprises right at midnight, right after free agency started, but nothing serious enough to where I wanted to change my plan and not re-sign with the Raptors. It was flattering; it’s always nice to be wanted and to see teams calling and inquiring about you and trying to find a way to add you to their team. But, like I said, it wasn’t anything substantial enough and it didn’t happen fast enough for me to stray from my plan [of re-signing with Toronto]. If I wanted to explore those options, I would’ve had to put the Raptors’ things on hold and stall them out to see if these other things would fall into place and that just didn’t really make sense to me.

When you talk about your free agency, knowing you’re restricted, is it still your top preference to come back? […] Fred VanVleet: “Nothing’s changed for me. [Dwane Casey] was a big part of that, just my familiarity and comfort level and obviously, I was playing a lot of minutes, and, you know, a coach could come in and it may not work out that way. But I can’t worry about that. I’m going to be loyal to the organization that gave me a chance and I love the city of Toronto, I love the fans, I love the people here, and I would love to be back. So hopefully it can work out. Obviously, you’d like to be wanted. You want all parties to find a way to make it work. And that’s what we’re gonna shoot for. We’ll see what happens in the next few weeks.”

VanVleet is 24, and will be among a crowd of restricted free agents who should get more attention than usual this year because so many teams are tight against the luxury tax, including Toronto. VanVleet is likely to command an offer in the $12 million-per-year range, and matching it would require the Raptors to shell out exponentially more than the contract’s value — around an extra $20 million in taxes for the first season. Center Lucas Nogueira is the only other free-agent decision to be made. He can be a restricted free agent and has a $4.1 million qualifying offer for next year.
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