While 29 other general managers are watching Toronto closely, the buzz out of Canada is that the team will not make a hard mid-season pivot to tanking and sell off its stars. The price reportedly is sky-high for someone like OG Anunoby (who is having an elite defensive season), and other stars like Pascal Siakam are not available.
However, Fred VanVleet might be the exception.
This started last summer when the Raptors and VanVleet’s representatives discussed a contract extension. A report this week said that VanVleet rejected a four-year, $114 million extension offer — that’s in the Jalen Brunson salary range — but VanVleet himself addressed the situation and said no formal offer was made, and both sides thought it best to wait.
Can confirm that Fred VanVleet was offered a 4yr extension for $114m prior to the season. Offer wasn’t ‘rejected’, but was a ‘mutual decision to wait, with no deadline discussed’ per a source. @JLew1050 first.
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) January 8, 2023
Fred VanVleet on his contractual situation: pic.twitter.com/9faNkEhlu4
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 9, 2023
That is all semantics. What is “formally offered” in a negotiation and what is clearly on the table are different things. The Raptors likely made it clear they would pay VanVleet the money, but he thinks there is more out there for him on the open market.
VanVleet has a $22.8 million player option for next season he is expected to walk away from and become a free agent. He reportedly is seeking Tyler Herro money (four years, $130 million, which is slightly more than 20% of the salary cap).
That leads to three questions: 1) Is that kind of money out there for him on the market? 2) Do the Raptors want to pay VanVleet that much? 3) If they think they will lose him this summer, do the Raptors need to trade VanVleet at the deadline and get something in return?
VanVleet was an All-Star in 2022 but has had a down season this time around, averaging 18.6 points and 6.2 assists per game, but the real issue is his efficiency dropping off as he is shooting 37.7% overall and 32.9% from behind the arc. Without another quality point guard on the roster, VanVleet has had to carry a heavy load this season averaging 37.1 minutes per game (third in the league, and the two people above him are Siakam and Anunoby). There’s a sense that VanVleet’s efficiency would go up if his minutes went down, but the Raptors are caught in a trap there, Nick Nurse can’t afford to play him less (Toronto has already slid to 17-23 and 12th in the East).
Toronto has five weeks to decide if they want to pay VanVleet the money he is seeking or something close enough to retain him. There are a lot of teams with cap space this summer that could see VanVleet as a stabilizing force the way the Knicks did with Brunson and be willing to pay him. If Toronto wants to pivot, they have to start with VanVleet and do so before the deadline.
It’s a name to watch as we crawl toward the trade deadline.