Is VanVleet a smidge overrated? Possibly. There were 49 players who averaged at least 15 shots per game last season, and VanVleet’s 39.3 field goal percentage ranked 49th. Out of 77 players who drove the ball at least 500 times, his minus-1.82 quantified shooter impact was 73rd. De’Aaron Fox made 68.4 percent of his driving layups last year; VanVleet finished at 47.8 percent. An inefficient point guard is anathema to any head coach who craves efficient offense.
He turns 30 in February, is undersized, and has logged a ton of minutes since becoming a full-time starter. But FVV is still surgical enough to nudge a contender over the top or shepherd a promising rebuild that could really use his organizational skills. He’s patient and sharp and always knows where his release valves are before he motors into the paint. If you’re open, VanVleet will find you. After the pass, he relocates quickly and won’t hesitate to skip it over to another open teammate.
Possible contenders like the Lakers, Clippers, Sixers, and Mavericks should keep their eyes peeled. Upstarts like the Spurs, Rockets, Jazz, and possibly Magic would also work. Picture VanVleet as Victor Wembanyama’s first NBA point guard, in lineups that have spacing and athleticism. It’s the type of role that could redefine how VanVleet is remembered if everything unfurls the way that the Spurs hope the next few years will.
Teams that aren’t bad but definitely aren’t good, like the Bulls, should see VanVleet as a smooth rudder, though acquiring him won’t be easy.
Pro: Talent Preservation
The Raptors are very familiar with what can happen to a team when it loses talented players for nothing. Following the championship season in 2019, the Raptors saw key veterans like Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol walk to other teams in free agency for zero return, leaving them with a roster barren of talent.
Whatever your thoughts on the long-term upside, health, price, and fit of free agents VanVleet and Poeltl, there is something to be said about re-signing them now and figuring out the rest later, even if their deals look expensive on paper. After all, with the NBA’s salary cap consistently rising — and a new TV deal coming in 2025 — it’s likely that no matter what the Raptors sign VanVleet and Poeltl for, they will be able to trade them down the line without having to give up assets.
Plus, there is a real chance both VanVleet and Poeltl have better seasons under a new head coach and in a new system, improving their trade value and giving the Raptors more flexibility to re-shape the roster in the future.
When you add in the fact the Raptors have no clear pivot option for a different starting-caliber point guard or centre, it seems like their best option is to bring back the same group and kick the decision-making can down the road one more time.
Con: Chemistry and vibes
It’s easy to blame the lack of on-court chemistry and all-around bad vibes from the Raptors last season on former head coach Nick Nurse and his reportedly splintered coaching staff, but there was a lot more to it than that. The Raptors had players in radically different stages of their careers and they did not have a clear offensive hierarchy, which led to selfish play and frustration throughout the lineup.
Plus, there have been reports dating back several seasons that O.G. Anunoby wants a bigger offensive role, while Barnes is entering his third year and likely wants the same. Bringing back the same roster doesn’t exactly create a clear path for either of those two things to happen.
The Raptors can hope Rajakovic and his .5-second offensive system predicated on unselfish play and ball movement will lead to wins and keep everyone happy, but that is asking a lot of a first-time NBA head coach. After all, players now have certain financial incentives tied to making All-NBA teams and other accolades, giving them legitimate reasons to want to have the ball in their hands more and to take more shots.
Running it back with the same roster along with adding another offensive weapon in Dick does not seem like a good way to turn around the Raptors’ lacklustre chemistry and vibes from last season.
So — for argument’s sake — let’s presume that Houston is going to bring a bully offer to VanVleet.
What position does that put the Raptors in?
It’s a tough one. First of all, any idea of the Raptors being able to keep VanVleet on a three-year deal for $90 million would be out the window. The difference in income taxes (Texas has no state tax, to start with) alone would make Houston’s two-year offer on par with three from Toronto.
How can Toronto counter? One option would be to tack on another year to their offer, pushing it to four years and $120 million. But that causes problems. Not only would they be paying a then-33-year-old VanVleet nearly $33 million in 2026-27, the Raptors would also have that on their books at the same time as big deals for Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby are up and running, along with whatever else happens over the next four years.
And that’s presuming VanVleet — having grown used to the sound of an annual salary starting with a four — would even sign for $30 million.
Then the Raptors run into real problems. Every dollar more they have to pay VanVleet — over any term — is less they have to pay Jabob Poeltl, the centre the Raptors acquired from the San Antonio Spurs for a lightly-protected 2024 first-round pick at the trade deadline.
And guess what? The market for free-agent centres is thinner than the point guard market and Poeltl is judged the best available. While a deal averaging $20 million — a four-year $80 million agreement would start at $18 million or thereabouts — might have been deemed reasonable by all parties at one stage, there’s nothing to stop the big Austrian from playing hardball and pushing for a little more.
The cascading effect is more roster movement: would Toronto have to attach draft picks to move Otto Porter Jr.’s $6.3-million contract? Or the $3.8 million left on Malachi Flynn’s deal? Maybe it’s the two years and $22.5 million left on Chris Boucher’s contract that has to go, robbing the Raptors of one of their few reliable bench options on a team where depth has been an issue.
All of this assumes the Raptors would dig as deep as necessary to sign VanVleet – a reasonable assumption given they’ve only ever signaled an intention to remain competitive rather than cycle back with a rebuild, and he’s one of their best players.
But perhaps there is a world where the Raptors decide they won’t allow external pressure to push them into signing a deal — for money or term or both — that they don’t believe is proper value.
JD: Toronto is around $40m below the tax and around $45-46m below the first apron. The front office seems adamant about running it back with a new coach. The Raptors aren’t really known as a tax player, with most of their historical trade-deadline moves being about getting under the tax, so how realistic is it for the Raptors to retain Fred VanVleet and Jakob Poeltl?
Keith: Yeah, it’s doing that and staying under the tax is probably pretty close to impossible. Fred VanVleet’s probably gonna get something in the 30 million range, if not more. Jakob Poeltl will probably gonna get something in the 20 million range, if not more. So you’re already talking, you know, 50 million or around there. So that would definitely push the Raptors into luxury — now they have every ability to re-sign both of those guys, they have full bird rights on them. So they could do that if they wanted to (depending on) whether or not they want to go that deep into the tax to retain them both. Yeah, we’re gonna find out here in a few days.
JD: So it’s just that it comes down to the ownership’s willingness to pay the tax, right?
Keith: Yep, that’s exactly it. Yep. Yep. Or do they have the green light to go into the tax and probably pretty deep into the tax as well?
JD: Yahoo’s Jake Fischer said that Houston might be willing to offer VanVleet a 2-year contract of 40 million per year. Does that make sense for the Rockets to do something like that?
Keith: I think we have seen some of the things like that now. Houston, I personally don’t think so. I think that’s not a great idea for them. Because Houston’s in a spot where they are, how do I phrase this? They’ve got so many kids that I don’t know that Fred VanVleet lifts them enough. But if they feel like he’s the right veteran guard to bring in and kind of help them along, then sure, you know, by all means, you know, go that route. My personal opinion is I don’t think they should be chasing free agents like that right now. I think they’re getting too impatient too quickly. But we’ll see. You know, it seems like they’re pretty hell-bent on we’re gonna sign a couple free agents here.
JD: yeah, I feel bad for my Filipino guy, Jalen Green. He needs a better environment.
JD: If the Raptors manage to keep VanVleet and Poeltl, what kind of MLE can they access?
Keith: If they kept both of those guys, they would likely be well into the tax, and they’d probably be in the taxpayer MLE at that point, and that would be about 5 million MLE, depending on how much they signed those guys. So when they re-signed both of those guys, we’re talking somewhere in the 5 million MLE, but if they lose one or both of them, probably the 12 million non-taxpayer MLE.
JD: Does extending Pascal Siakam (from the asset management perspective) make sense?
Keith: Yeah, if you’re gonna continue to just kind of keep this group together as much as possible and just run it back, then, yeah, absolutely. Because what you don’t want to do is have Siakam hit, you know, free agency unrestricted next year and just be able to walk for nothing. So if you’re not going to trade him, then yeah, absolutely, it makes sense to try to get him extended and move again, to kind of keep things moving with this group.
JD: Should the Raptors cash out on OG Anunoby?
Keith: It seems like the Raptors are content to, more or less, run it back. And if you do that, you might as well keep OG Anunoby and try to be as good as you can be with this team. I think the better idea for Toronto would have been, hey, let’s not tear it all the way down. But let’s, you know, kind of hit a reset on this. We’ll have Scottie Barnes, the draft pick, and we’ll see what we can get for guys like Siakam and Anunoby, and even at this point, now that he’s opted in, Gary Trent, Jr. What could we do there?
I don’t know that I’d go in and use big money to retain VanVleet and Poeltl because we’ve seen this group together. The upside is relatively limited there. You’re probably talking to 45 — maybe if everything goes great, a 50-win team. So you’re just kind of stuck in the middle. Personally, I’d be looking to trade Anunoby if the reports are out there, that teams are offering multiple first-round picks and those kinds of things for him. I’d probably look into it because there’s just as good a chance that he’s gonna leave town all on his own, and then you get nothing back in return.
Jay Onrait was joined by TSN Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg who weighed in on the likelihood that Fred VanVleet leaves Toronto and signs with the Rockets in free agency, and how bad it would look on Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster if they let him walk for nothing.
Whether they can fit VanVleet and Poeltl into a salary structure that probably has about $50 million (U.S.) to split between them will depend on other teams, and that creates an aura of uncertainty in Toronto.
If the Houston Rockets throw $40 million a year at VanVleet, the Raptors couldn’t — and shouldn’t — even try to match that.
(The usual warning comes now: Reports from sources that fly around these days need to be taken with a grain of salt.)
As with much in the NBA, money will be a determining factor in what any team can do. Luxury-tax penalties are far more harsh under the new collective agreement that kicks in Saturday with larger and incrementally more severe penalties at three thresholds, instead of just one.
The Raptors will be perilously close to the first tax level if they re-sign both free agents, but they see a path to making it possible. They may also consider trading a player into another team’s salary-cap space or trade exemption and take nothing of value back. All possibilities are rattling through the minds of Ujiri and Webster and the team’s top-level accountants.
The reality is that if VanVleet and/or Poeltl leave, the Raptors will still only be nibbling on the financial fringe for free agents.
It’s not like they would have up to that $50-million bundle of cash to spend. NBA rules would restrict them to the mid-level exception of about $12.4 million to work with. They would be able to sign either of them with no regard to the tax because they are Toronto’s own free agents. It’s a key distinction that some casual fans might miss, but it’s central to the NBA system that encourages players to stay with their teams.
But there may be useful free agents in Toronto’s price range, even with only the mid-level money to spend.
The Raptors don’t need frontcourt help — not if they re-sign Poeltl and don’t move any of Pascal Siakam, Christian Koloko, Chris Boucher or Precious Achiuwa. But they do need shooters and backcourt help, regardless of how the VanVleet situation plays out.