Thursday, May 23, 2024

Raptors losing VanVleet to Houston Rockets, per Report

Whatever last-ditch attempt the Toronto Raptors had hoped would sway the 29-year-old point guard in their final meeting with VanVleet and his representatives appears to have been in vain. The former All-Star will reportedly sign a three-year, $130 million contract to join the Rockets, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

This was the worst-case scenario for the Raptors this summer.

Raptors losing VanVleet to Houston Rockets, per Report

Raptors Negotiations

The organization had long believed they could re-sign VanVleet in free agency. Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said the team would “100 percent” do everything they could to keep VanVleet in Toronto, he told TSN 1050 earlier this month.

And yet, the Rockets and their $60-plus million in cap space proved too much for Toronto. Houston made a Godfather offer and the Raptors’ decided they couldn’t match.

VanVleet is just the latest member of the 2019 championship team to depart Toronto without the Raptors receiving any compensation.

Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green both left following the championship. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka both signed in Los Angeles with the Lakers and Clippers, respectively, the following year. In all four cases, there wasn’t much Toronto could have done, and letting Gasol and Ibaka go proved wise.

Contract Negotiations

With VanVleet, though, the situation is different. By all accounts, Toronto did receive offers for VanVleet at the trade deadline. The Raptors, however, opted not to sell their soon-to-be free agent, thinking at worst they’d be able to work out a sign-and-trade should he decide to leave for a contender elsewhere.

It was the wrong decision.

Unlike in 2019 and 2020 when Toronto had championship-contending squads and trading any of their key free agents would have been foolish, the Raptors this season failed to make the post-season, finishing the year 41-41 and bowing out in embarrassing fashion to the Chicago Bulls in the play-in tournament.

Toronto is left with a glaring hole in the backcourt and no apparent means to replace VanVleet. Malachi Flynn is the lone point guard currently under contract and he was in and out of the rotation all season. Jeff Dowtin Jr. is expected to be back, but the Raptors didn’t feel he was important enough to make him eligible for the playoffs last year.

Raptors losing VanVleet to Houston Rockets, per Report

How do the Raptors Pivot

The answer to the VanVleet void will likely come by committee for the Raptors who can now access the $12.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception to sign a free agent. There will be options, Gabe Vincent has already been connected to Toronto, for example. It’s worth noting, though, that the Raptors have never been successful in signing an impact player with the mid-level exception.

In-house, VanVleet’s departure likely means more time for Scottie Barnes as the lead initiator. Barnes played more on the ball in his sophomore season with Toronto, but he struggled with those responsibilities for the better part of the season. It wasn’t until later in the year when Toronto moved him to a quasi-center role that he began to flourish again.

For VanVleet, Houston’s offer proved Mr. Bet On Yourself was right again. He and the Raptors “mutually” agreed not to sign a four-year, $114 million contract extension last summer, he said, a decision that proved fortuitous for him. While the total value of this contract is smaller, VanVleet gets a higher annual value and will likely make up the difference and more on his next contract.

The deal marks the end of one of the greatest developmental stories in the Raptors’ history. VanVleet was signed by Toronto in 2016 as an undrafted free agent and leaves the organization with the single-game franchise record for points (54) and assists (20). He sits 10th all-time in games played (417), eighth in total points (6,090), third in assists (2,199), and fourth in steals (562).