Why Fred VanVleet’s contract situation is one of many difficult decisions for the Raptors ahead of the trade deadline

Why Fred VanVleet’s contract situation is one of many difficult decisions for the Raptors ahead of the trade deadline

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet declined a four-year, $114 million contract extension offer from the team last offseason, according to TSN. VanVleet, who has a player option for 2023-24 and can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, is seeking a deal worth at least as much as the Tyler Hero signed with Miami Heat — $130 million over four years.

Whether he gets that deal, whether from the Raptors or elsewhere, remains to be seen. This has been a frustrating season for the veteran, who was a first-time All-Star in 2022. His scoring, rebounding and assists are down slightly, and his 3-point shooting has dropped sharply. In 31 games, he is averaging 18.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game while shooting 37.1 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from behind the arc.

One thing that has remained the same from last season is his heavy workload. The Raptors don’t have a reliable point guard, or much in the way of offensive creation outside of VanVleet and Pascal I’m sorry. As a result, he is back among the league leaders in minutes per game at 37.1. In fact, the only players in the entire league averaging more minutes than VanVleet are his teammates, Siakam (37.3) and And Anunoby (37.2).

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

All of that, combined with VanVleet’s decision to decline the extension offer last offseason, should make for a very interesting trade deadline. After a competitive first-round playoff exit last season, the Raptors were projected to be back in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference — not a huge contender, but a definite playoff team with potential advantage depending on how much. Scottie Barnes get well.

Now, as we hit the halfway mark of the season, they are 16-23 and in 12th place, 1.5 games out of the play-in tournament and 5.5 games out of a top six spot. They haven’t been super healthy and are just 1-7 in three-point games. So you could argue that they are a bit better than their record shows. Still, it’s clear they’re further away from the best teams in the conference than anyone thought. The big question is whether the Raptors’ front office believes they’re a step or two away from reaching that level, or if they need to tear things down and start over.

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

Regardless, VanVleet’s contract situation will be all up in the air. He’s a small guard who has only played 65+ games once in his career, is approaching 30 years old and has carried a heavy workload in recent years. Even if the Raptors want to keep him, it would be totally understandable if they are wary of committing too much money to him long-term. At the same time, if you don’t trade him at the deadline, you risk going over him this summer and losing him for nothing.

The Raptors are in an unenviable spot, but making those tough decisions is exactly why they made Masai Ujiri the highest-paid executive in the N.B.A. This is your time to shine.

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