Fred VanVleet could potentially wear his familiar number 23 jersey for a team other than the Toronto Raptors in 2020/21. His most recent comments shouldn’t necessarily shock anyone but could have ramifications for the Toronto Raptors.
Fred VanVleet went from an undrafted prospect in 2016 to an NBA Champion with the Toronto Raptors in just three seasons. By his fourth season, 2019/20, he was starting and on the verge of proving he can be a perennial all-star in the NBA.
The Toronto Raptors management and coaching staff deservedly should be prideful about the decision to give the former diminutive Witchita State prospect a shot at developing into the highly productive NBA guard he has become.
However, every decision comes with consequences, and for every prospect that flames out in the NBA, there are those, like Fred VanVleet, who pan out and hit the gold mine. It’s a gold mine with a maximum known as the salary cap with a hard cap ceiling and a luxury tax.
Fred VanVleet is deserving of his opportunity for a big payday. As a free agent who can start negotiating with interested teams on November 20th, 2020, that payday is right around the corner.
On the Old Man and the Three podcast host by New Orleans Pelican JJ Redick, he made the following statements:
"“I’m trying to get paid, man. I’m not shy about that…I don’t have to tell people that I value winning. Just look at my story, do your research. I’ve never been on a losing team in my entire life. That’s what I’m about. And that’s just what it is. I won a championship and now it’s time to cash out…I’m only four years in, but I feel like I’m on the verge of blossoming even more with more of a lead role.”"
As prudent as it seems for the Toronto Raptors to bring Fred VanVleet back into the fold, the matter may be out of their control.
Toronto Raptors and the Salary Cap
The Toronto Raptors have some hard decisions to make this off-season, and that job falls to general manager Bobby Webster and president Masai Ujiri. This management team has made great decisions in recent years, but 2020 could be the toughest of all off-seasons to navigate.
According to spotrac.com, the Toronto Raptors have approximately 87 million dollars in salary already committed to nine players. It was recently announced the salary cap would stand pat at 109 million with the luxury tax level at 123 million.
If the management team of the Toronto Raptors is willing to spend up to and over the luxury tax, in a worst-case scenario, they could bring back both Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka with the 46 million cap space they have, putting them over the luxury tax as the team owns bird rights on both players and can exceed the cap maximum to sign re-sign them.
Further, if Fred VanVleet is worthy of a huge salary increase, the same can be said for Serge Ibaka, who statistically had perhaps his best season in the NBA. and as a backup center.
This would give the Toronto Raptors a roster of 11 players and keep the starting lineup intact with holes at both backup center, power forward, and small forward.
The Raptors would have the mid-level exception, which normally is 9.76 million but drops to 6.03 million if they pay the luxury tax. This hampers any ability to attract and sign a free agent like Montrezl Harrell, who made six million in 2020. Toronto would also not be able to bring back Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Moves Toronto Raptors can make to get under the Luxury tax and salary-cap maximum.
To better fill out the roster, the Toronto Raptors could make several moves to free up some space under the salary cap. These transactions may mean a weaker team overall but would lend some financial flexibility.
First, the Raptors could trade right out of the draft for a future pick. The 29th 2020 first-rounder that the Toronto Raptors currently possess would require a cap hit this coming season of $1,625,500.
It might also become necessary to trade the cap hit of 10.8 million that Norman Powell will require in 2020/21. It does mean removing your best bench scorer and a strong perimeter defender. Also, there is the issue of Terence Davis, who has a legal matter hanging over his immediate future.
If the Toronto Raptors eliminate Davis’ 1.5 million dollar salary, which isn’t guaranteed anyway, they have now freed up nearly 14 million dollars in this scenario. Still, it would mean the level of quality of free agents they could acquire to fill out the 15 man roster drops off with both Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka returning.
The major mistake that also cramps Toronto’s management is the two-year deal (one plus a player option) given to Stanley Johnson in 2019, where he is due 3.8 million should he opt-in to his final year. Considering he played minimally last season, it would be a huge risk for him to opt-out of that money. He could be included in a deal to a team that wants his contract’s flexibility ending in a year.
Potentially trade Kyle Lowry.
The other possibility is to trade Kyle Lowry. It is not immediately clear what the Toronto Raptors could receive in return for a 34-year-old point guard. There have been several trade rumors, none of which seem realistic involving Kyle Lowry, considering he is the Raptors’ heart and soul.
He is due 30 million dollars this season, and the right deal could redistribute that salary into several players filling glaring holes on the roster.
The rumors have include stories sending him to Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and, most recently, the Los Angeles Lakers. If anything can be read into Fred VanVleet’s recent statements, he feels he is blossoming into a team leader.
However, the Toronto Raptors’ true on-court leader is Kyle Lowry. VanVleet might be suggesting his development may be stagnated because of the continued presence of Kyle Lowry in Toronto. At age 26, Fred VanVleet is in his prime. Logic would suggest he and not Kyle Lowry is the present and future at the point guard spot in Toronto. Should Fred VanVleet not return in free agency next summer, the Raptors will be searching for a point guard when Kyle Lowry’s contract ends.
It may just be equally good sense to let Fred VanVleet walk away in free agency and spend that salary cap space as needed.
These considerations all get magnified in a handful of days as the 2020 NBA Draft is on Wednesday, free agency negotiations begin November 20th, and free-agent signings will start on November 22nd, 2020.
It has been a strange year in the NBA, but the excitement is about to begin.