Fred VanVleet

More Details On Thunder, Raptors Trade Talks

Earlier today, we relayed a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on the Thunder‘s efforts to engage the Raptors in trade discussions involving Paul George. As Wojnarowski explained, the threat of Oklahoma City sending George to Toronto instead of to Los Angeles forced the Clippers to put a massive offer on the table to ensure that they secured not only George but Kawhi Leonard as well.

[RELATED: Thunder to trade Paul George to Clippers]

Wojnarowski’s report suggested that Thunder head of basketball operations Sam Presti had been open to pursuing a deal with the Raptors that would have sent both George and Russell Westbrook to Toronto, with Pascal Siakam as the centerpiece of the deal. However, Raps president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri balked at the idea, and talks didn’t gain traction.

Bruce Arthur of The Toronto Star adds a few more details to that report, tweeting that the Thunder asked for Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and four unprotected first-round picks as a starting point for George.

Arthur’s report doesn’t make clear whether Westbrook was involved in that proposal, or which veteran(s) the Raptors would have had to include for salary-matching purposes. However, according to Arthur, the Raptors believed they were being used as leverage — and also believed that Leonard would be headed home to Los Angeles.

[RELATED: Russell Westbrook mulling possibility of being traded]

Wojnarowski’s and Arthur’s sources paint a similar picture of the Raptors’ involvement in these trade talks with the Thunder. It sounds as if things never really got all that serious from Toronto’s side, given their concern that they were being used to get more out of the Clippers, but OKC had to make the Clippers believe that sending George to the Raptors was a real possibility. Ujiri and Raps GM Bobby Webster didn’t have the ability or the inclination to top the Clippers’ offer, league sources told Wojnarowski.

It’s possible that the Raptors would’ve made a stronger push for George if they’d known that acquiring him would lead directly to a long-term commitment from Leonard, but there’s no indication that was the case.

As Wojnarowski reported, the Clippers believed Kawhi would go to the Lakers if the Clips couldn’t acquire PG13 — assuming they were right, it’s not clear that Toronto acquiring George would have changed that.

Eastern Notes: Leonard, Pistons, VanVleet, Hornets, Wizards

Despite a report from last week that Kawhi Leonard bought a house in Toronto, Leonard denied the story on Saturday in front of reporters, according to a Canadian Press report (via The Toronto Star).

Raptors fans were optimistic that this could be a clue of Leonard’s upcoming free agency decision, with the 2014 Finals MVP scheduled to become a free agent on June 30, one day after his 28th birthday. He’ll likely register interest from several suitors outside of Toronto, including his hometown teams in Los Angeles.

“No, it didn’t. It didn’t happen yet, no,” Leonard said of the report.

Leonard has guided the Raptors through the Eastern Conference and out to a 3-1 series lead over the Warriors, averaging a playoff career-high 31.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 22 postseason games.

The Raptors have a chance to win their first ever NBA championship on Monday night, a pivotal game for a franchise hoping to persuade Leonard to re-sign on a lucrative free-agent contract this summer.

There’s more from the Eastern Conference tonight:

Raptors Notes: Leonard, Ibaka, Celtics, VanVleet

Tim Bontemps of ESPN recently wrote an in-depth piece on Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard, and while the entire piece is worth a read, several anecdotes stick out, particularly one involving Wizards veteran forward Trevor Ariza.

At some point between his freshman and sophomore seasons at San Diego State, Leonard received word that Ariza, already a six-year NBA veteran and NBA champion, would be working out on the Aztecs’ campus.

Leonard, always one to do whatever he can to be the best he can be, asked Ariza if he could take part in the veteran’s workouts. Ariza agreed, and was immediately impressed with Leonard’s talent and immeasurable work ethic.

“Man, my first impression of him was, this kid is here to work, period… No matter what… I prided myself on being there first person in all the time,” Ariza said. “And, when I got there, (Leonard) was already there. He’d done everything he needed to do, and he was ready to work out again… When I saw the work ethic he had, I knew he was going to be special.

Leonard was even able to win some one-on-one drills against the NBA veteran as a 19-year-old college sophomore-to-be, Ariza admits, telling ESPN that “(Leonard) was an NBA player when he was a freshman in college.

There’s more from Toronto this afternoon:

  • After an up-and-down season in which big man Serge Ibaka became a bench player for the first time since the 2010/11 season, his second in the NBA, Ibaka’s superb play in Game 4 of the NBA Finals was instrumental in the Raptors taking a commanding 3-1 lead against Warriors, writes Doug Smith of the Toronto Star. Ibaka finished with 20 points, four rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
  • The Raptors remarkable run to the cusp of the franchise’s first NBA championship has to resonate painfully with the Celtics, where Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens, and company envisioned making a similar run, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. The biggest difference? Perhaps the gap between Leonard and Kyrie Irving is larger than we all realized.
  • While Fred VanVleet concedes that there is an increased mental focus and sense of responsibility that comes from the birth of your child, he denies the correlation between the birth of his son, Fred Jr., and his improved play in these playoffs, write Michael Lee and Dan Robson of The Athletic. Rather, Fred Sr. credits his own hard work and unbreakable confidence for helping him transform his game this postseason.

Atlantic Notes: Butler, Vonleh, VanVleet, Ntilikina

Jimmy Butler will return to Minnesota on Saturday when the Sixers visit the Timberwolves, marking his first game back in Target Center since shockingly requesting a trade from the team back in September.

Butler, who received mostly boos in the 10 games after his trade request last fall, is preparing to enter what’s sure to be a hostile environment during his return.

“They’re going to boo me,” Butler said of the Timberwolves fans, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times. “I would boo me, too. I’m not going to lie to you.”

Butler, who’s known as one of the most outspoken players in the NBA, said he’ll even consider joining in with the fans’ boos. Butler spent just one full season on the Wolves, with the 29-year-old set to reach unrestricted free agency on July 1.

“Oh, I love it,” Butler continued about the fans’ reaction to the trade, as relayed by Stein. “I love it. I love it. Who wants to be loved all the time?

“It’s O.K. It’s fine. I don’t need everybody to like me. I know who I am. I can’t say that enough. I know what I’m about. I know where my heart is. People will say, ‘He’s this way, or he’s that way,’ but nobody knows except for the people around me every day. Ask them and they’ll tell you differently.”

Let’s check in on more items from out of the Atlantic…

  • Knicks forward Noah Vonleh underwent an MRI on Wednesday that revealed a right ankle sprain with a bone bruise in his right foot, the team announced. Vonleh is expected to be re-evaluated in one week, with the 23-year-old averaging a career-high 8.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 25.3 minutes per game this season.
  • Raptors guard Fred VanVleet turned to analytics in order to improve his game while injured, Blake Murphy of The Athletic writes. VanVleet missed 12 straight games after undergoing surgery to fix ligament damage in his left thumb, returning to the court two weeks ago. “I’ve found some spots where I think I can be good. I’ve looked at my numbers. I’ve been bored outta my mind so I studied some analytics a little bit, watched a lot of film, and just seeing where I can get better,” VanVleet said. “This feels like October again for me so I’m approaching this as a new season, the end of the season, and hopefully I can come back and take another jump of improvement towards the end of the season.”
  • Knicks coach David Fizdale couldn’t commit to Frank Ntilikina returning this season, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. Ntilikina re-injured his groin on Friday, an injury that cost him nearly two months of action earlier in the year. “We don’t know yet on the status of how far away he is from coming back,” Fizdale said when asked whether Ntilikina is out for the season. “I know it was a tough blow to the kid the other night. I just don’t know how severe it is. I just know that it got to a point during the game where it was really bothering him. It’s just been frustrating for the kid. It’s been frustrating for all of us, but for him it’s been tough.”

Atlantic Notes: Raptors, Celtics, Horford, Knicks

Fred VanVleet returned to the Raptors‘ lineup at the right time, suiting up for the team on Sunday for the first time since injuring his thumb before the All-Star break. As Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca details, Toronto threw VanVleet into the deep end in his return, playing him for 31 minutes in a tightly-contested loss to Detroit, and the club was at its best when he was on the floor.

VanVleet won’t be relied upon to play quite as significant a role once Kyle Lowry is ready to return from his ankle injury, but Jeremy Lin‘s struggles since joining the Raptors last month have highlighted VanVleet’s importance, Grange notes.

In 15 games since he arrived, the Raptors have a -5.9 net rating when Lin plays and a +12.9 rating when he sits. With VanVleet back in the rotation and Lowry nearing a return, Lin’s role is in danger of being cut back significantly as the postseason approaches.

Here’ more from around the Atlantic:

  • Although he only played for the Celtics for three seasons, it felt like 15 based on the love he was shown by fans in Boston, Isaiah Thomas tells Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. Suggesting that he’ll always consider Boston home, the veteran guard said he wouldn’t close the door on returning to the Celtics at some point. “You never know,” Thomas said. “You can’t predict the future. My options are always open for anybody. I’m a Denver Nugget now, but I’m a free agent at the end of the season, and you never know what can happen. Who knows?”
  • Over the weekend, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters, including Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston (Twitter link), that the club plans to sit Al Horford for three or four games down the stretch. Horford’s impact has been a little inconsistent this year, which is due in part to nagging injuries, so the C’s want to make sure he’s ready for the postseason.
  • Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have been frequently linked to the Knicks this season, while they’ve had contentious exchanges with the media nearly just as frequently. In a column for Newsday, Steve Popper wonders how Durant, Irving, or any other star who signs with the Knicks this summer would handle the pressure and expectations that would face them in New York.

Raptors Notes: Lin, VanVleet, Kawhi, Green

When the Raptors landed Jeremy Lin on the buyout market last month, it looked like a perfect fit. Toronto had just lost backup point guards Fred VanVleet (to injury) and Delon Wright (in a trade), opening the door for Lin to play a key role off the bench. However, the veteran hasn’t looked comfortable with the Raps so far — entering today, he was a minus-46 in 140 minutes and made 0-of-17 three-point attempts, as Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca writes.

“We’ve gotta get him more comfortable,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s just a little uncomfortable with me, I think, more than anything. I like to let those guys [have freedom]. I say to him, ‘Jeremy, hey, call something. You know, you get the ball in your hands and you look like you don’t know what you want to do out there.’

“I say, ‘You don’t have to look at me, just call this, this or this, pick one.’ He’s got to get a little more comfortable. Even though I’ve tried to shorten it down to three things, he’s so new that he can’t quite come up with one. I need to give him more help. I need to give him more help until he’s more comfortable with that.”

Lin admits that he has more freedom in Toronto than he’s accustomed to, suggesting that he hasn’t had this sort of “empowerment” since he played for Mike D’Antoni in New York, as Lewenberg relays. The 30-year-old welcomes the opportunity to return to that style of play.

“That is kind of how I always played,” Lin said. “I was always more of a free space, free-flowing playmaker. That’s just kind of who I am by nature. That’s my personality. That’s probably what attracted me to this team and obviously vice-versa. We got to just make the pieces fit and [we] will.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • The Raptors’ bench will get some reinforcement when VanVleet returns, and according to Lewenberg (via Twitter), he’s ahead of schedule in his recovery from a thumb injury. Nurse expects VanVleet to return to Toronto’s rotation at some point within the next couple weeks.
  • Appearing on the Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Michael C. Wright reiterated a point he’s made before, suggesting that he doesn’t believe Kawhi Leonard is interested in heading to the Lakers to play alongside LeBron James this offseason. “I do not,” Wright said, per RealGM.com. “That’s just what I’ve been told. It’s what I’ve been told going back to last summer. I don’t see that as something that’s happening. … I think he goes to the Clippers.”
  • While Leonard’s free agency will be the biggest storyline in Toronto this summer, his longtime teammate Danny Green will also be an unrestricted free agent, and Green’s impact on the Raptors this season shouldn’t be overlooked, writes Dan Feldman of NBC Sports.

Fred VanVleet Undergoes Thumb Surgery, Out Five Weeks

FEBRUARY 13, 2:32pm: VanVleet will undergo surgery to repair the ligament damage in his left thumb, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical, who reports (via Twitter) that the Raptors’ point guard is expected to miss about five weeks.

FEBRUARY 11, 3:19pm: Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet is expected to be sidelined at least into March, the team announced today in a press release. According to the Raptors, VanVleet suffered a partial ligament injury in his left thumb and will wear a splint for approximately three weeks before being re-evaluated.

It’s unfortunate timing for the Raptors, who waived fourth-string point guard Lorenzo Brown about a month ago and traded away third-string point guard Delon Wright last week. Toronto now appears awfully short-handed at a position that was once its deepest, with players like Patrick McCaw, Norman Powell, and two-way guard Jordan Loyd perhaps in line for increased ball-handling duties behind starter Kyle Lowry.

Help should be on the way, however, as a report earlier today indicated that Jeremy Lin is expected to finalize a buyout with the Hawks and sign with the Raptors. Still, Lin’s release isn’t yet official, and he’ll have to spend 48 hours on waivers, so it’s not clear if he’ll be able to join the Raps before the All-Star break.

[UPDATE: Lin was bought out on Monday and is expected to clear waivers on Wednesday.]

The All-Star break, at least, should help limit the number of games VanVleet is projected to miss. If he’s able to return in three weeks, he’d only be out for the next seven Raptors games. There’s no guarantee he’ll be ready to go at that point though.

A finalist for last season’s Sixth Man of the Year award, VanVleet has seen his shooting percentages dip this season, but remains a key part of Toronto’s rotation, with 10.5 PPG and 4.6 APG on .403/.366/.833 shooting in 51 games (22 starts).

Atlantic Notes: Nets, VanVleet, Sixers, Hayward

As a result of the Nets owning their own first-round pick for the first time in four years and the struggles the team has dealt with after losing Caris LeVert, many fans have brought up the idea of tanking this season to land another top prospect. However, as Greg Logan writes for Newsday, the Nets and head coach Kenny Atkinson won’t be actively trying to lose games any time soon.

The Nets have suffered several tough losses in recent weeks, having built up leads against the 76ers, Grizzlies and Thunder, only to fall short of victories on all three occasions. However, the team had a strong weekend, securing back-to-back victories over the Raptors and Knicks.

As it stands, the Nets sit at 10-18 and 11th in the Eastern Conference. The conference has a plethora of struggling teams, which would make it more difficult for the Nets to fall down the standings. It looks like this Nets team will continue fighting and scraping for every victory it can get.

There’s more from the Atlantic division:

Atlantic Notes: Butler, Hayward, Fultz, VanVleet

While Jimmy Butler‘s three-team wish list of preferred trade destinations includes the Knicks, his interest in New York has been overstated, per USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt (Twitter link).

Zillgitt notes that Butler’s main goal is to compete sooner than later, and joining a Knicks team in rebuild mode does not accomplish that. Butler’s list also includes the Nets and Clippers, but more teams have since been reported as possible destinations. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Pistons, Rockets, Heat, Sixers and Trail Blazers also have interest. Also, the Cavaliers have entered the sweepstakes.

Knicks brass has been adamant that the organization will not deviate from its plan to not trade young players and draft picks. Acquiring Butler, a 29-year-old All-Star, would require both.

Check out more Atlantic Division notes:

  •  Celtics star Gordon Hayward is expected to sign a multi-year sneaker deal, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. Hayward, who missed nearly all of last season after a freak ankle injury, Hayward has reportedly been pursued by several major companies, including Nike, New Balance and the Chinese company Anta.
  • Sixers guard Markelle Fultz has worked hard on improving his jump shot and is ready to make an impact this season, writes Rich Hofmann of The Athletic (subscription required). “This summer was really just me working to get my mechanics back, my confidence back, my swagger back,” Fultz said.
  • The Raptors signed Fred VanVleet quickly after free agency opened this summer, keeping a vital part of Toronto’s bench. Blake Murphy of The Athletic (subscription required) examines the process and VanVleet’s new contract.

Northwest Notes: Jazz, VanVleet, Blazers, Wolves

The Jazz were fairly quiet in free agency over the summer, reaching new deals with their own free agents like Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto, but not bringing in any outside targets. However, according to Blake Murphy of The Athletic, Utah was in the mix for at least one noteworthy free agent: Fred VanVleet.

In a story on VanVleet’s restricted free agency, Murphy – citing a league source – reports that the Jazz “somewhat unexpectedly tried to get into the mix” for the Raptors’ point guard. Utah didn’t have cap room this offseason, but could have used the mid-level exception to give VanVleet a similar deal to the one he received from Toronto (two years, $18MM). It’s not clear how seriously the Jazz considered VanVleet, but if they had landed him, it’s unlikely that the club would have invested so heavily in Exum ($28.8MM over three years).

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • The Trail Blazers have become the latest NBA team to secure a jersey patch sponsorship deal, announcing today that they’ve partnered with Performance Health. As a result, a Biofreeze logo will be featured on Portland’s uniform starting in the 2018/19 season. The Blazers are the 24th NBA club to add an advertisement patch to their jerseys since the start of last season.
  • Pat Zipfel, who had been the head coach at Division II school Mansfield, has accepted a role with the Timberwolves, per Andy Malnoske of NBC Elmira (Twitter link). Previously an assistant coach for the Rockets and Timberwolves, Zipfel also has served as an advance scout for multiple NBA teams. It’s unclear what his new title in Minnesota will be.
  • Eric Woodyard of The Deseret News takes an in-depth look at Jairus Lyles‘ quest to earn a roster spot with the Jazz for the 2018/19 season. The former UMBC standout will face an uphill battle — Utah has 14 players on guaranteed contracts, with Royce O’Neale expected to fill the 15th and final roster spot.
  • In case you missed the biggest news out of the Northwest today, Jimmy Butler has requested a trade from the Timberwolves. Here are the latest rumors on Butler.