Fred VanVleet

Raptors Notes: Ujiri, Leonard, DeRozan, VanVleet

By trading away franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri demonstrated his belief that Toronto’s roster, as constructed pre-Kawhi Leonard, wasn’t going to get the job done against the Celtics or the rest of the Eastern Conference, reports Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports.

But now that Leonard is a Raptor, the obvious question becomes, for how long? The Lakers, like most everyone else who follows or reports on the NBA, believe they will land Leonard next summer. Yet, the brass in L.A. felt the same way last summer when they saw Paul George, who publicly voiced his desire to play in Hollywood, be traded to the Thunder only to re-sign with Oklahoma City earlier this month without so much as a second look at the Lakers.

Per Mannix, however, this feels different. The Raptors don’t have an MVP sidekick to pair with Leonard like the Thunder have in Russell Westbrook, and as Chris Haynes of ESPN blunty tweeted earlier today, Leonard has “no desire” to play in Toronto. But then again, Toronto is not an undesirable city, it plays host to one of the most rabid fan bases in all of professional sports, and Ujiri will have an entire year to sell Leonard on a future in Canada.

Ultimately Ujiri, who another front office executive tagged as “really impressive” and a “tremendous asset,” chose to roll the dice on an MVP-caliber player knowing that there were risks attached. It remains to be seen, at least until next summer, whether Ujiri’s gamble will payoff.

There’s more from The North:

  • In a subsequent tweet from Haynes, the ESPN scribe mentions how players around the NBA have not failed to notice that the Raptors have yet to make a statement thanking DeRozan for his contributions over a nine-year period with the franchise.
  • In another article for Yahoo Sports, Michael Lee opines that the DeRozan/Leonard trade is unique because both of the marquee players involved are furious with the deal. For his part, DeRozan is particularly hurt because he claims to have been told by the Raptors just recently that he wouldn’t be traded out of Toronto. And after former franchise stars like Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, and Chris Bosh bolted, it seems cruel for a player like DeRozan, who actually wanted to stay in Toronto, to be sent packing without his approval.
  • In other Raptors‘ news, re-signed guard Fred VanVleet sat down with Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype for a wide-ranging interview detailing everything from his free agency experience this summer and last season’s breakout performance to his thoughts on former coach Dwane Casey and new head coach Nick Nurse.

Atlantic Rumors: Gaines, Nurse, Celtics, Knox

Clarence Gaines Jr. is no longer with the Knicks’ organization, Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic reports. Gaines was the team’s VP of player personnel under former team president Phil Jackson, who credited Gaines for lobbying to select Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 lottery. Gaines did scouting for the current regime last season. Several newcomers have been hired by the front office and Gaines did not have strong ties to GM Scott Perry, Ian Begley of ESPN notes. Gaines’ contract expired after last season.

In other developments around the Atlantic Division:

  • Challenging DeMar DeRozan to become a better defender is just one of the things new Raptors coach Nick Nurse has in mind for next season, Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun writes. Nurse is trying to devise ways to play two smaller guards, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, together and still minimize the issues that it presents defending pick-and-rolls, Wolstat continues. Playing Serge Ibaka more often at center is another wrinkle Nurse plans to employ, Wolstat adds.
  • The Celtics are planning to hold onto their $8.641MM mid-level exception for the balance of the offseason, Keith Smith of RealGM tweets. Their priority is to re-sign restricted free agents Marcus Smart and Jabari Bird and see what develops during the season, Smith adds.
  • Strong summer-league showings by first-round pick Kevin Knox and second-rounder Mitchell Robinson have made the Knicks look wise in their selections, ESPN’s Andre Snellings writes. Knox should jump right into the Knicks’ starting lineup at small forward, while Robinson could eventually work his way into the rotation. While neither player shows superstar potential, they both have skill sets that should translate to the league, Snellings adds.
  • The Nets have positioned themselves to make a big splash next summer, Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype notes. They can create enough salary-cap room to sign two first-tier free agents to go along with two first-round picks, provided that the protections on the pick the Nuggets sent them don’t kick in.
  • Knicks coach David Fizdale will head off to Latvia on July 22nd to visit with Porzingis and check on his progress from knee surgery, Marc Berman of the New York Post reports.

Trevor Ariza Signs One-Year Deal With Suns

JULY 6: Ariza’s deal with the Suns is now official, the team confirmed in a press release“Phoenix was the most aggressive team and the team that showed the most interest in me,” Ariza said today at his introductory press conference. “We all want to feel appreciated and wanted. When a team shows that much appreciation for what you do, naturally you are attracted to something like that.” (Twitter link from Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle). 

JUNE 30: The Suns and Trevor Ariza have reached an agreement on a one-year, $15MM contract, reports Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Phoenix will use most – if not all – of its available cap room to complete the signing.

Ariza, who turns 33 on Saturday, averaged 11.7 PPG and 4.4 RPG with a .368 3PT% in 67 regular-season games for the Rockets. While his season ended on a low note following an 0-for-12 shooting performance in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, the veteran played a key role in Houston, knocking down corner threes and playing excellent perimeter defense. His departure will be a blow to the West’s No. 1 seed.

The Suns, meanwhile, continue to add depth to their frontcourt. In the last two drafts, Phoenix has used lottery picks to add Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges. The team also locked up T.J. Warren to a long-term extension that will take effect this year.

Given Phoenix’s need in the backcourt, the decision to devote the majority of its available cap room to Ariza is a little surprising. However, three-and-D wings are one of the most coveted assets in the modern NBA, and Ariza will provide veteran locker-room leadership as part of a young Suns roster.

While it’s not clear how the Suns will address their hole at the point, their deal with Ariza could be good news for a team like the Raptors, who had been concerned that Phoenix might sign Fred VanVleet to an aggressive offer sheet, tweets Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun. The Suns seem likely to be in the market for a less expensive point guard now.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raptors Re-Sign Fred VanVleet

JULY 6: VanVleet’s new contract is official, the Raptors announced in a press release. “We all know Fred’s personal motto is ‘Bet on Yourself.’ We know that Fred is no gamble – he’s hardworking, dedicated, and smart, and has been fantastic for us,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said. “We’re thrilled he’ll be a big part of the Toronto Raptors for seasons to come.”

JULY 1: The Raptors have agreed to re-sign free agent point guard Fred VanVleet, according to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Charania reports that it will be a two-year, $18MM contract, while Michael Scotto of The Athletic adds (via Twitter) that the deal won’t include any option years.Fred VanVleet of the Toronto Raptors vertical

VanVleet, who initially joined the Raptors as an undrafted free agent out of Wichita State in 2016, emerged as a key part of the team’s rotation in 2017/18. The leader of the NBA’s most productive five-man second unit, VanVleet averaged 8.6 PPG and 3.2 APG with a .414 3PT%. He was frequently a part of Toronto’s crunch-time lineups, and was a finalist for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award.

Even without account for VanVleet, the Raptors already have $126MM+ in guaranteed money on their books for 2018/19, so there was some concern about the club’s ability to bring back the key reserve, particularly if the 24-year-old received a lucrative offer sheet from a rival suitor. However, a prime landing spot for VanVleet disappeared early on Sunday morning when the Suns committed their cap room to a deal for Trevor Ariza rather than using it to pursue a point guard.

With VanVleet projected to get a starting salary close to $9MM, the Raptors are set to go well into tax territory, so the team may look to cut costs elsewhere. Multiple reports this offseason have stated that no one on Toronto’s roster is untouchable, including highly-paid veterans like Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, and C.J. Miles. The club was also said to be gauging the market for Norman Powell.

The Raptors will use their Early Bird rights to re-sign VanVleet, so they’ll still have the taxpayer mid-level exception available.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Derrick Favors Sets Meeting With Jazz

Representatives of the Jazz will meet with free agent big man Derrick Favors Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, writes Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune.

Both sides are confident that Favors will return to Utah, tweets Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. He cites the Suns as a team that might take a chance on Favors, but adds that Phoenix needs a point guard and is in the market for Toronto’s Fred VanVleet.
Favors, 26, has been in Utah since arriving in a 2011 trade. He averaged 15.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in 77 games this season and played particularly well when starting center Rudy Gobert was sidelined by injuries.
The Jazz have said they will place a priority on keeping Favors, along with restricted free agents Dante Exum and Raul Neto. They must also decide by Sunday whether to guarantee a $5.25MM contract for Thabo Sefolosha, with Jones stating that Sefolosha’s camp is confident they will.

Raptors Issue QOs To VanVleet, Miller, De Colo

The Raptors have extended qualifying offers to Fred VanVleet, Malcolm Miller, and Nando De Colo, ensuring that all three players will become restricted free agents, the team announced today (via Twitter).

VanVleet, the most notable of the three players, had a breakout season for the Raptors in 2017/18. The leader of the team’s second unit, VanVleet averaged 8.6 PPG and 3.2 APG with a .414 3PT% and was a finalist for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award. His qualifying offer is worth just under $1.7MM.

As Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca detailed earlier today, the Raptors are wary of a rival suitor back-loading an offer sheet to VanVleet via the Arenas provision. However, if the 24-year-old doesn’t receive any over-the-top offers from other teams, there’s a good chance he’ll remain in Toronto on a new multiyear deal.

Miller was on a two-way contract with the Raptors in 2017/18, so his QO will be a one-year, two-way contract offer with a $50K guarantee.

As for De Colo, he hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2013/14 season, but the Raptors have retained the right of first refusal on the 31-year-old since then by issuing qualifying offers each year. De Colo seems unlikely to return to the NBA at this point, given his success overseas — the CSKA Moscow guard has earned First Team All-EuroLeague honors for three straight seasons. As such, the Raps’ QO looks like a mere formality.

The only Raptors player eligible for restricted free agency who didn’t receive a qualifying offer today is Lucas Nogueira. The team has a couple more days to issue a QO if it changes its mind, but it appears Nogueira will become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins.

Lou Williams Wins Sixth Man Award

Lou Williams career year earned him the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award, it was announced at the NBA’s annual awards show. The 31-year-old Clippers guard easily beat out the other finalists, the Rockets’ Eric Gordon and the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet.

Williams had always provided instant offense off the bench during his career but he turned it a couple of notches this past season. He easily surpassed his previous scoring standards by averaging 22.6 PPG while dishing out 5.3 APG, another career best. Williams shot 43.5% from the field and 35.9% on 3-point attempts in 79 games in 19 career starts.

Williams scored 30 or more points in 17 games and blew up for a career-best 50 points against the Warriors on January 10th. Gordon won the award in 2017 while Williams was one of the finalists.

Raptors Gauging Interest In Swingman Norman Powell

The Raptors are gauging interest in Norman Powell prior to the draft, Josh Lewenberg of The Sports Network reports.

Any potential suitor would have to believe the 6’4” swingman has untapped potential, considering his four-year, $42MM extension kicks in next season. Powell was a disappointment in his third NBA season, as his production and playing time tailed off from his sophomore campaign.

He’ll make approximately $9.37MM in the first year of the contract. However, the extension doesn’t kick in until July 1st, which makes him easier to trade before that time. The acquiring team would only have to match or absorb the $1.47MM he made last season to make the trade work. If he’s dealt after this month, the acquiring team would have to match up salaries or absorb his salary from the first year of the extension.

Powell lost his starting spot early in the season and averaged 5.5 PPG, 1.7 RPG and 1.3 APG in 15.2 MPG while appearing in 70 games. His long-range shooting was an issue, as he knocked down just 28.5% of his 3-point tries. He averaged 8.4 PPG and made 32.4% of his 3-point attempts during his second season.

Toronto’s front office believes it has enough depth at the wing positions to deal Powell, Lewenberg continues, and his combination of youth, athleticism and high character could draw some interest. The return would be minimal, Lewenberg opines, perhaps nothing more than a second-round pick. Removing Powell’s salary would give them more cap space to retain restricted free agent Fred VanVleet, which GM Bobby Webster considers his highest offseason priority.

Raptors GM: RFA VanVleet Is ‘Our Highest Priority’

An undrafted rookie two years ago, Fred VanVleet emerged as one of the Raptors‘ most important players during the 2017/18 season, leading the second unit and playing crunch-time minutes for the club. Now, he’s eligible for restricted free agency, and the Raps sound committed to doing all they can to bring him back.

“He’s a huge priority,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said this morning during a TSN 1050 radio appearance (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca). “I don’t want to get fined here, we’re a little limited in what we can say, but we love Freddy and he knows that. He is our highest priority.”

As Webster alludes to, the NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits teams from announcing publicly that they’ll match any offer sheet a player signs, though teams are still allowed to make general statements praising the player and expressing a desire to bring him back. In VanVleet’s case, the ceiling on his potential offer sheets are somewhat limited by the Arenas provision, but he’ll still be in line for a significant raise this summer.

A former Wichita State standout, VanVleet averaged 8.6 PPG and 3.2 APG with a .426/.414/.832 shooting line in 76 games (20.0 MPG) for the Raptors last season. While those numbers don’t pop off the page, VanVleet’s impact was greater in the second half of the season, and his on/off-court numbers reflect his value — Toronto had a +12.1 net rating when he was on the court, compared to +4.9 when he sat. The 24-year-old is a finalist for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.

While the Raptors will do all they can to re-sign VanVleet, their ballooning team salary will be a concern. The club already has $126MM+ in guaranteed money on its books for 2018/19, so a new deal for VanVleet would require either shedding salary elsewhere or committing to a substantial luxury-tax bill.

Charania’s Latest: Clippers, Doncic, Kawhi, RFAs, More

While no trades are likely to be completed until closer to – or during – draft night, Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports believes there could be a lot of movement in this year’s draft, with several teams looking to trade up or down. Appearing today on Chris Mannix’s podcast, Charania pointed specifically to the Clippers as a team that has weighed the possibility of moving up. With the Nos. 12 and 13 picks currently in hand, L.A. could put together an intriguing package, and they’ve looked “heavily” at Real Madrid star Luka Doncic, according to Charania.

Here are more highlights from Charania’s appearance on the Yahoo Sports NBA podcast:

  • Addressing the Kawhi Leonard situation in San Antonio, Charania indicated that an extension or a trade are the probable outcomes for the star forward this summer — it’s unlikely that the Spurs would keep him for next season without a new deal in place. However, both sides are interested in mending fences and clearing up last season’s miscommunications. Leonard is also nearing 100% health and should be ready to go to start next season, Charania adds.
  • In a look at the restricted free agent market, Charania identified Magic forward Aaron Gordon and Bulls guard Zach LaVine as two players who could command max or near-max deals and are unlikely to change teams. He also speculated that the Suns, Kings, and Pacers are among the clubs with cap room who could be fits for Celtics RFA Marcus Smart, and said that there seems to be mutual interest between the Mavericks and Julius Randle.
  • Raptors guard Fred VanVleet and Bulls swingman David Nwaba are two under-the-radar restricted free agents in line for sizable raises, in Charania’s view. He expects both players to land deals worth more than $5MM, noting that Toronto may have to use its full Early Bird exception (approximately $8.5MM) to retain VanVleet.
  • While outside observers around the NBA remain skeptical about the Thunder‘s chances of re-signing Paul George, Oklahoma City is still exuding confidence, according to both Charania and Mannix. Charania observes that George and Russell Westbrook have become “really close,” which could factor into the forward’s decision.
  • Many people around the league don’t expect former Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo to get another NBA job anytime soon, if at all, per Charania.