This is going to be a big offseason for the Toronto Raptors.
While they no longer have to worry about Pascal Siakam's contract extension, they have some decisions to make when it comes to the futures of Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, each of whom will be unrestricted free agents at the season's end.
Of the three, VanVleet is the most interesting. Not only is he averaging career-highs of 17.6 points, 6.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals on 40.9 percent shooting from the field and 38.8 percent from the perimeter, he's the only one who is on a similar timeline as Siakam. He's also primed to carry the torch from Kyle Lowry whenever the day comes that he's no longer Toronto's starting point guard.
VanVleet has said before that he would re-sign with the Raptors "in a perfect world," but he's one of the better players available in this summer's free agency class. There are several teams that will likely be interested in signing him, although there are two in particular that make more sense for him than others, plus one wild card.
Let's take a closer look.
The Pistons are in a rebuild. They still have Blake Griffin under contract for a couple more seasons, but moving Andre Drummond for Brandon Knight, John Henson and a future second-round pick at the trade deadline signaled that this team is now focused on the future, not so much the present.
In signing VanVleet, the Pistons would be getting a much-needed leader in the backcourt, one who still has his best years ahead of them. If Griffin is still on the roster by the start of next season, VanVleet gives the Pistons a creator and shooter next to the six-time All-Star. If Griffin isn't, VanVleet gives the Pistons a floor general who can get the most out of the team's younger talent, such as Christian Wood, Sekou Doumbouya, Luke Kennard and whoever they select in the 2020 NBA Draft.
VanVleet filling a position of need is one reason the Pistons make sense for him as a free agent destination. The other is that they are one of the few teams that will have cap space to lure VanVleet away from the Raptors.
It remains to be seen what the salary cap will be for 2020-21, but the Pistons currently have only $70.2 million committed to their roster for next season, Griffin ($36.6 million) and Tony Snell ($12.2 million) being their biggest earners. Based on the current cap, that gives Detroit the room to offer VanVleet a contract that pays him upwards of $20 million per year if they so choose.
As John Hollinger of The Athletic noted, anything over $20 million annually for VanVleet would make it complicated for the Raptors to create max room in the summer of 2021, when the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Rudy Gobert and Victor Oladipo could hit free agency.
If maintaining flexibility is a priority, a team like the Pistons could make it difficult for the Raptors to retain VanVleet.
New York Knicks
The Knicks tick two of the same boxes as the Pistons do - they need a point guard and they have the means to create cap space with Bobby Portis ($15.8 million), Taj Gibson ($10.3 million) and Wayne Ellington ($8.2 million) each having a team option in their contracts for the 2020-21 season.
What the Knicks have that the Pistons don't is a young player they're building around in RJ Barrett, whom the franchise selected with the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Regardless of whether or not you think Barrett has the potential to be the first or second option on a title contending team at some point in his career, VanVleet is the type of player the Knicks should be looking to surround him with. Not only can he help space the floor for Barrett as a shooter - VanVleet has made 43.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts this season, one of the best rates in the league - he can take some of the playmaking burden off of him.
VanVleet would fit in well with Mitchell Robinson, too. The two would make for a dynamic pick-and-roll duo, given VanVleet's relentlessness attacking the basket and Robinson's ability to play above the rim.
More than anything, VanVleet is a proven winner. For a team that hasn't made the playoffs for six years and counting, they could do much worse than signing a player with his pedigree to run their offence and usher in what the franchise hopes to be a new era of Knicks basketball.
With Goran Dragic ($19.2 million), Solomon Hill ($13.3 million), Meyers Leonard ($11.3 million) and Jae Crowder ($7.8 million) coming off of their books, the Heat currently have only $82.4 million tied up in salaries for next season, making them the best team with significant cap space to work with this offseason.
VanVleet would fill in perfectly for them as their point guard of the present and future. He's the type of hard-nosed defender Heat president Pat Riley usually goes after in free agency, and he'd complement Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo well as a shot creator and shooter in the backcourt.
It helps that VanVleet has experience sharing the court with players of their caliber. Whereas Butler operates in a similar way as Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan and Pascal Siakam, Adebayo has some Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in him considering he's one of the better passers at the centre position and a dynamic roll man. Playing alongside them probably wouldn't take much of an adjustment for VanVleet.
The Heat might not be willing to offer as much money as the Pistons and Knicks - much like the Raptors, they reportedly have their eyes set on making a splash in the summer of 2021 - but they can offer VanVleet an opportunity to start on a team that is one or two pieces away from being a legitimate contender.
If things were to go sideways with the Raptors, the Heat could be a real threat to sign VanVleet.
The Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns are the other teams Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus projected to have cap space this offseason before the coronavirus pandemic upended the 2019-20 season.
The reason they're all in this honourable mention category is that they each already have a starting point guard on their roster. The Hawks have Trae Young, the Grizzlies have Ja Morant, the Hornets have Terry Rozier and Devonte' Graham, the Cavaliers have Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, and the Suns have Ricky Rubio.
It remains to be seen if Rubio is a part of Phoenix's future plans, but he still has two more years remaining on his contract. Unless the Suns intend on trading him this offseason, it's hard to see them being a realistic destination for VanVleet, even though he'd slide in nicely alongside Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
For everyone else, it's safe to assume they're not going anywhere anytime soon, so they probably won't be in the running for VanVleet.
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