Fred VanVleet: some thoughts on how much Raptors need to pay to keep him

Toronto Raptors - Fred VanVleet (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Fred VanVleet (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

Fred VanVleet might be the most surprising player on the Raptors roster. His success means he’s in line for a bigger payday – but how much is enough?

In less than 2 full seasons, Fred VanVleet has gone from nobody to somebody with the Toronto Raptors. More precisely, he’s advanced from the D League (at the time), to the end of the Raptors bench, to cleanup duties, to a regular member of the rotation. Such progress for an undrafted and undersized point guard is astonishing.

VanVleet’s contract has a qualifying offer attached of $ 1.7 million for next season. Assuming he continues to play as well as he has recently, that money won’t be sufficient to keep him around. There being no rest for NBA top men, Masai Ujiri must give due consideration to how much money he can afford to dole out to retain Fred’s services. Our man is a restricted free agent [RFA], which means he’s eligible to receive offer sheets from other teams, forcing the Raptors to match or lose him.

[20-second timeout: One of the enduring delights of sports writing is the frequent need to respond to surprises, in this case a pleasant one. On a list of perhaps 100 topics I expected to be offering thoughts on in the 2017-18 season, VanVleet’s money would have ranked about # 2,603. Dwane Casey has been rewarded for his faith in the young man.]


Getting a idea of what a player is likely to be offered is as easy as eating soup with a fork. Still, we’ll make an effort. Here’s a brief list of RFA point guards who are available.

I’m going to cherry-pick a few of these fellows for comparison:

Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic

  •  $2.7 M, 4 years exp., 23 years old [so is Fred]
    • I’m not even sure if the Magic are going to keep him around

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

  • $3.7 M, 4 years exp., 23 y.o.
    • Smart is a strong defender and rebounder, but I’m skeptical he’ll ever be a respectable shooter

Shabazz Napier, Portland Trail Blazers

  • $1.5 M, 4 years exp., 26 y.o.
    • Napier has been a career backup

I don’t think I’d trade Fred for any of these people. However, Fred may not want to stick around our team if he can find a gig where he’s the starter. He’s never going to be The Man while Kyle Lowry is in Toronto, so the best he can hope for is competing with Delon Wright as the primary backup.

Who else needs help?

The Knicks are profoundly in need of a point guard. Jarrett Jack is 34, and French wunderkind Frank Ntilikina is 19. In other words, one is too old, the other too young, and New York is almost sure to be back in the lottery again.

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That’s one team, and I suspect there will be others, who would be candidates to render VanVleet an offer sheet. The Sacramento Kings, in their sixth year of a three-year rebuild (or vice versa – who knows with them?), immediately spring to mind. That goes double if they dump George Hill, as has been rumoured.

The Raptors are constrained financially until the 2020-21 season, when a bunch of huge contracts come off the books. If the suits want to keep Fred around (and I hope they do!), Masai will need to perform some variant of the painful giveaways (DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph) which jolted us last summer. I’m just spitballin’, but dumping C.J. Miles and his $ 8.33 M deal for a second-rounder to an under the cap team like Dallas or Phoenix would work.

Backup point guards don’t make big cake. Regardless, Fred should easily double this year’s stipend on a two-year deal. After that, he may be comfortable and productive to such a degree that he’s ready to take over as the starter. That might be the best timing and outcome for both team and player.