With massive salary cap room and a need for veterans, multiple media reports have linked the Houston Rockets to a potential pursuit of Fred VanVleet once the NBA’s 2023 free agency window officially opens at 5:00 p.m. Central on Friday afternoon.
But veteran reporter Josh Lewenberg, who works for Canada’s The Sports Network, says Toronto is confident in retaining its point guard.
VanVleet, 29, averaged 19.3 points, 7.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.8 steals in 36.7 minutes per game for the Raptors last season.
Ultimately, a potential bidding war may come down to which contract structure VanVleet prefers. Per Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports, the Rockets are considering short-term, high-salary deals to land veteran targets. That could place a potentially high luxury-tax burden on a team such as the Raptors while retaining optionality for Houston to move on from VanVleet in a year or two, should a young guard like Amen Thompson be ready to take the reins.
For example, if Houston was to offer a two-year, $80-million deal (the maximum salary, as Fischer proposes), that would stick a luxury-tax figure of nearly $40 million on Toronto’s 2023-24 salary books. That could be a difficult figure for the Raptors to handle, and from VanVleet’s perspective, it would allow him to hit free agency again in 2025 — when, at 31 years old, he’ll still be close to his prime.
On the other hand, Toronto could try to get VanVleet to accept a lower short-term tax figure in exchange for adding a third or fourth year to the deal. In total, that would provide more guaranteed money.
Lewenberg reports that the Raptors are prioritizing VanVleet and know it will take at least $30 million per season to retain him. Relative to Houston, Toronto might be more willing to offer a longer-term deal, both for immediate luxury-tax reasons and because the Raptors don’t have a guard prospect like Thompson who might warrant significantly more playing time in the coming years.
So, if the Rockets offered two years for $80 million and the Raptors four for $120 million, is VanVleet willing to take less guaranteed money to get a higher annual figure in the next two seasons? A lot of it likely comes down to how willing VanVleet is to bet on himself and his ability to command another big deal in 2025 free agency.
Only VanVleet and his agent know if he wants to make that type of gamble. As of late Tuesday, here’s where things appear to stand for the Rockets and fourth-year general manager Rafael Stone.
Raptors confident in VanVleet return
Have spoken to a few people around the league who aren’t buying Houston as a FVV landing spot, despite reported interest. We’ll see. Money talks & HOU has the cap space to make a serious run at Fred (or drive up his price). I’m told the Raptors remain confident they can keep him.
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) June 27, 2023
Raptors expecting to bid at least $30 million per year for VanVleet
With free agency opening this weekend, my sense is the Raptors plan to prioritize retaining VanVleet & Poeltl and expect it’ll take annual salaries of $30M+ and ~$20M respectively to get it done. At that cost and assuming they intend to avoid tax, they’d have to clear $ elsewhere
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) June 27, 2023
Houston to make very competitive offer to VanVleet; maximum deal required
Word has only grown in league circles about Houston’s chances of prying veteran point guard Fred VanVleet from Toronto. While staying with the Raptors still sounds like it’s on the table for both parties, Houston is prepared to offer VanVleet a very competitive deal, while all those whispers about a James Harden return have noticeably decreased in recent weeks.
The Rockets, sources said, are considering short-term, high-salary contracts in order to land top-target free agents with their $61 million in cap space. It would take a maximum contract to ultimately lure VanVleet from Toronto, sources said, which would top out at two-years, $80 million.
Dillon Brooks continues to be mentioned by league personnel as the top wing on the Rockets’ radar, in addition to Brook Lopez ranking as Houston’s primary big man option.
Rockets holding more KJ Martin trade calls
Keep an eye on the Rockets possibly trading bouncy forward KJ Martin to create further financial flexibility. The Rockets have held an increasing number of trade calls on Martin with several teams since the NBA draft, sources told Yahoo Sports. Atlanta, Phoenix and Brooklyn have been mentioned as Martin suitors dating back to the February trade deadline.
Source: Yahoo Sports