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Fred VanVleet, Raptors

What kind of contract does Fred VanVleet deserve this offseason?

It’s no secret that Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet has come a long way. From going undrafted in 2016, to initially spending time in the developmental league, the undersized guard has worked his way up to get to where he is now.

VanVleet has always gone by the motto of “betting on himself.” He continues to do so to this day. Time and time again, he has proven that not only does he belong in the NBA, but he can perform at a high level and be a winning piece for any championship team. Certainly, he’s done more than enough to earn a well-deserved pay raise this coming off-season.

But how much does Fred VanVleet really deserve to get?

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst previously reported that Malcolm Brogdon’s contract may dictate the market for VanVleet this coming off-season, per league executives. The 6-foot-5 guard bagged a four-year $85 million contract from the Indiana Pacers last summer and a deal within the same stratosphere could come VanVleet’s way.

Considering everything that Fred VanVleet brings to the table while looking at his production and intangibles, perhaps a deal within the Brogdon range (around $80 million to $90 million) should be just right for the 6-foot-1 guard. Certainly, this would be the best-case scenario for the Raptors and should be a contract they are willing to offer their two-way stud.

The Raptors currently have VanVleet on a friendly 2-year, $18-million deal that he signed in 2017. With his stark improvement over the last couple of seasons, VanVleet will certainly command a higher price in free agency, whenever that may be.

VanVleet rose through the ranks and eventually became a rotation player for Toronto. He served a vital role in their 2019 championship run last year, saving his best for last with 22 points and five triples in the Game 6 title clincher against the Golden State Warriors. Now, the Wichita State standout is one of Toronto’s key pieces in their bid to repeat as NBA champions.

The Raptors find themselves with a testy situation in the upcoming offseason when VanVleet becomes an unrestricted free agent. The 26-year old has proven his worth with his breakout 2019-20 season. And it’s arguable that his value continues to rise with his play in the bubble games so far and in the 2020 postseason.

While an annual salary of around $20 to $22 million should be Fred VanVleet’s price, some reports even hinted that VanVleet could receive an offer of up to $25 million a season, should a rebuilding team with cap space be willing to offer him that hefty payday. Teams such as the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons have emerged as potential suitors for the one-time NBA champion.

However, with the current economic climate brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, there’s still so much uncertainty on how the NBA’s cap situation will look like next season. Rumors also surfaced that the upcoming unrestricted free agent may consider signing a short-term deal given the current conditions and see how the market plays out when things normalize.

With the way VanVleet is playing for the Raptors, team president Masai Ujiri would certainly want to retain the tough and gritty guard.

VanVleet has emerged as Toronto’s secondary ball-handler behind veteran point guard Kyle Lowry. Despite lacking in height, the two have created a terrific backcourt combination for the defending champions. And with Lowry, 34, getting up there in age, Toronto sees the 26-year old as a potential core piece of their future alongside 2018-19 Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam.

Moreover, despite being undersized, VanVleet is a gritty and pesky perimeter defender, much like his backcourt partner Lowry. The Rockford, Illinois native has proven to be a key piece in Toronto’s juggernaut defense.

VanVleet turned in career averages for the Raptors this 2019-20 season. In 54 games (all starts), he posted 17.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.9 steals, while shooting 41.3 percent from the field and a steady 39.0 percent from beyond the arc. In the postseason, VanVleet is providing Toronto with the essentially same production: 20.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 7.4 assists, while shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from three.

Toronto, however, would want to keep its cap space open for the 2021 off-season and VanVleet’s asking price could affect that. It’s no secret that Masai Ujiri and the Raptors have their eyes on Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetotokounmpo. Given that Milwaukee is on the brink of elimination against the Miami Heat in the second round, the Raptors are already exploring the high possibility of landing The Greek Freak.

Thus, Toronto will certainly want VanVleet’s number to fall within the $80 million to $90 million range, as mentioned. This should lock up VanVleet for the long haul and keep their cap flexibility for the 2021 off-season.

Fred VanVleet has expressed his desire to stay with the only Canada-based team in the NBA. In fact, he previously said that in a perfect world, he would remain a Raptor. However, this isn’t a perfect world.

A team like the Pistons or the Knicks may come knocking with a deal that’s too good to turn down. Likewise, nothing is set in stone with the current global conditions. With all the uncertainty, VanVleet may want to secure the bag now or go the wait-and-see approach to get a better deal in the future.

And of course, as he’s needed to do so for his entire career, this 2020 playoff run should still serve as a proving ground for his true value in the Association, especially now that the Raptors are facing a tough hurdle against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.