NBA Rumors: Fred VanVleet stepping on free agency red carpet for 2 teams

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors (Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors (Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports) /

On the eve of NBA free agency, Fred VanVleet only has two teams in mind.  

Fred VanVleet has spent his entire seven-year NBA career with the Toronto Raptors. The former undrafted guard out of Wichita State has made the All-Star game, won a championship, and built a genuine home in the North.

Now, he’s a free agent with several options available to him. VanVleet’s long-time head coach, Nick Nurse, was fired over the summer. Toronto missed the playoffs and has made no meaningful effort to improve the roster. And even so, the Raptors still feel like a very real candidate to re-sign the 6-foot-1 point guard.

There will, however, be competition for VanVleet’s services. According to NBA insider Marc Stein, VanVleet currently plans to hold in-person meetings with two teams: the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets.

NBA rumors: Fred VanVleet choosing between Raptors and Rockets in free agency

This isn’t the most shocking development, but it does put to bed some of the more outlandish hypotheticals, such as the Lakers or the Sixers. The Raptors are clearly ready to run it back despite last season’s myriad failings. Meanwhile, the Rockets have north of $60 million in cap space and are desperate — maybe even too desperate — to start winning games.

Per Stein, the Rockets are prepared to offer VanVleet a max contract of $83.6 million over two years. It’s unlikely VanVleet gets that kind of annual dollar value from the Raptors, but Toronto could incentivize him with the allure of staying in Toronto and, perhaps more meaningfully, a longer contract. Provided the general uncertainty around VanVleet’s health, a longer contract as he ages into his 30s could sway him back toward Toronto.

The basketball fit in Houston is a bit strange. VanVleet is a very adaptable player who can absolutely play alongside the Rockets’ young core. Amen Thompson still has to grow as a shooter, so maybe he starts his career in the sixth man role while VanVleet steadies the ship and incorporates his veteran savvy into Ime Udoka’s new offense.

The Rockets certainly need to establish a culture of winning at some point. Every rebuild involves losing games, but Houston’s effort on a fundamental level has been absolutely putrid ever since James Harden left. That’s obviously why Udoka was hired, but getting a winning vet with VanVleet’s résumé and temperament could help around the locker room and on the court.

That said, Houston is not ready to win games and VanVleet alone will not change that. The Rockets could theoretically splurge on VanVleet and still sign other free agents — Dillon Brooks, Kyle Kuzma, and Bruce Brown Jr. are names to watch — but once VanVleet locks up over $40 million annually, there’s no room left for true needle-movers.

Generally, Houston would be wise to take the patient and precise approach of a team like OKC. Don’t rush success; organic growth and gradual year-over-year growth can sustain the best long-term results. Houston, however, probably just lacks the patience for that.

VanVleet to the Rockets feels like the probable outcome, but do not discount the possibility of VanVleet simply finishing his career with the Raptors.

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