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Raptors' Fred VanVleet confident as ever with contract situation up in the air

"I'm not going to make it easy on them and they're not going to make it easy on me either."

Mere minutes after his Toronto Raptors snapped a three-game losing streak with a 117-105 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Fred VanVleet opted to set the record straight about his pending contract situation.

“I was never made a formal offer,” the Raptors guard told reporters. “There was never a formal offer made. It was a mutual decision made by both sides that the smart thing to do would be to wait it out.”

VanVleet was responding to a report from TSN’s Josh Lewenberg that claimed he had turned down an extension offer worth approximately $114-million before the start of the season, the maximum the Raptors could have offered him at the time.

The 28-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent as soon as this summer as he has a player option for next season worth about $22.8-million.

Conventional logic would suggest VanVleet would look to opt out and try for a bigger contract or at least look for the $114-million offer that was reportedly offered to him. However, just a season after enjoying an All-Star campaign, VanVleet has had a down year shooting the ball, connecting on just 37.7 percent of his attempts from the field and only 32.9 percent from three-point range.

VanVleet recently appeared on an episode of The Old Man & The Three, hosted by former NBA sharpshooter J.J. Redick and Tommy Alter, where he discussed his struggles this season.

“Early on in the season there was definitely an adjustment, I think, from a stylistic point,” VanVleet said. “Last year everything was free and easy and I think I was more of a focal point of on-ball duties and having the ball the whole game and being able to dictate where I want to go and this year that’s changed a little bit.”

Regardless what the cause is of what has been an off shooting stroke this season, it makes sense that VanVleet will now wait until the end of the season to discuss his contract.

For one, if he continues to struggle and it’s becoming apparent he might not get the kind of contract offer he may have been looking for as a free agent, he can opt in and make the same annual average value as what a five-year, $114-million offer would be anyway, and then try to restore his value with a strong 2023-24 campaign.

Additionally, with his value presumably lower now than it was before, it wouldn’t make much sense for VanVleet to look to re-open extension talks at this juncture of the season. He probably had a better offer when it was first supposedly levied in front of him compared to what it would be now. For a man who has become synonymous with the term “Bet on Yourself,” it makes sense that VanVleet would look to maximize his earning potential, no matter what.

Fred VanVleet is betting on himself once again, with rumours about his impending contract impasse picking up as the NBA trade deadline rapidly approaches. (Getty Images)
Fred VanVleet is betting on himself once again, with rumours about his impending contract impasse picking up as the NBA trade deadline rapidly approaches. (Getty Images)

“I felt like I've outplayed that contract thus far,” VanVleet told ESPN. "So just trying to get myself in a position to put the cards in their hands. They got to make a decision from an organization standpoint.

“I love being here. I love being a Raptor. I got a great relationship with (Raptors vice-chairman, president) Masai (Ujiri) and (general manager) Bobby (Webster), so I'm confident that we could find (a deal). It's a great partnership that we have, so going forward, I'm not going to make it easy on them and they're not going to make it easy on me either, and that's the way it's going.”

Of course, in the background of all this VanVleet contract situation talk is the ever-growing shadow of the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline.

This chatter coming to light a month before the big day can be interpreted in whatever way you may want to read the tea leaves of the Raptors’ deadline plans, but recent intel from veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein suggests that the Raptors won’t be looking to be sellers.

In his latest newsletter, Stein mentioned that there wouldn’t be a “broad fire sale” in Toronto, despite the attractive assets – that includes VanVleet – at the team’s disposal to use in a trade.

Not even Gary Trent Jr., the subject of many a trade rumour, is a sure thing to be dealt at the deadline, according to Sportsnet’s Michael Grange.

“I don’t think it’s a certainty that they trade (Trent),” Grange said Tuesday on Sportsnet 590 the FAN. “I think it’s a certainty that they’ll listen.”

There are plenty of good arguments to make in favour of trading Trent, and it’s safe to assume that if the Raptors were reportedly looking to extend VanVleet before, they aren’t look to trade him now, hence why the leak of those preseason discussions coming out just before the deadline are so curious.

The Raptors aren’t a team that leak plans much – regardless if they materialize or not – and in letting the public in on their thinking with VanVleet, it looks like it could be a window into what their strategy around Feb. 9 could be.

If they’re not looking to trade VanVleet, then why trade Pascal Siakam? Or O.G. Anunoby? Or even Trent?

The core of this Raptors team is still made up of talented players, and with one of the easiest remaining schedules in their final 42 games, there’s certainly reason for the front office to remain confident in the course they have charted thus far.

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