Why Fred VanVleet’s contract situation is one of several tough decisions the Raptors make before the trade deadline

Toronto Raptors Goalkeeper Fred Van Fleet turned down a four-year, $114 million contract extension offer from the team last season, According to TSN. VanVleet, who has a player option for 2023-24 and could become an unrestricted free agent this summer, is looking for a deal at least equal to the deal Tyler Herro signed with Miami Heat $130 million over four years.

It remains to be seen if he’ll get such a deal, either from the Raptors or elsewhere. It’s been a frustrating season for the veteran, who was a first-time star in 2022. His scoring, rebounding and assists are all down slightly, and his 3-point shooting is also down sharply. Over 31 games, he put up 18.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, while shooting 37.1% from the field and 32.5% from behind the arc.

The only thing that has stayed the same from last season is the heavy workload. The Raptors don’t have a reliable backup point guard, and there isn’t much in the way of offensive creation outside of VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. As a result, he was again among the league leaders in minutes per game at 37.1. In fact, the only players in the entire league to average more minutes than VanVleet are his teammates, Siakam (37.3) and OG Anunoby (37.2).

At this point, the Raptors are in a vicious circle with this roster. They need VanVleet as grounded as possible to stay competitive, but the more he plays, the more he breaks down. The more he collapses, the worse he plays. The worse he plays, the more Raptors lose. The more the Raptors lose, the more they need to play VanVleet to try and get back on track.

All of that, combined with VanVleet’s decision to decline an extension offer last season, should make for an interesting trade deadline. After a competitive first-round exit in the playoffs last season, the Raptors were once again expected to be in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference – not a top contender but a playoff-defining team with upside potential depending on how much Scotty Barnes improves.

Now, as we get to the halfway point in the season, they’re 16-23 and sitting in 12th place, 1.5 games out of the championship and 5.5 games out of the top six. They weren’t healthy and are only 1-7 in three-point games. So, you can prove that they are a little better than their record offerings. However, it is clear that they are far from the best teams in the conference than everyone thought. The big question is whether the Raptors front office thinks they are a step or two away from getting there or if they need to tear things down and start over.

Aside from Tampa’s strange COVID season, the Raptors have always leaned toward competitiveness, and according to TSN, the front office currently has no plans to deal with VanVleet. However, if the team continues to slump and is completely out of the playoff picture early next month before the deadline, that could change.

Regardless, VanVleet’s contract status will be hanging over everything. He’s a young guard who’s only had over 65 games once in his career, is nearing 30 and has shouldered an enormous load in recent years. Even if the Raptors wanted to keep him, it would be totally understandable if they were worried about setting aside a lot of money for him in the long run. At the same time, if you don’t trade it in by the deadline, you risk bidding this summer and losing it for next to nothing.

The Raptors are in an unenviable place, but making these tough decisions is exactly why Masai Ujiri has made them the highest-paid executive in the NBA. This is his time to shine.

Leave a Comment