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Though we’re not even halfway through the NBA season, the rumor mill is in full swing, and the gossip is especially loud up north.
Many of the Toronto Raptors‘ key players are free agents next summer, but none of them is upping their price point as much as Fred VanVleet.
Stepping into a starting role following the departure of Danny Green to the Los Angeles Lakers, the former undrafted free agent has shined for the Raptors, averaging 18.6 points, 7.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game while shooting 39.6 percent on three-pointers.
Because of this breakout season, VanVleet is potentially earning himself a high eight-figure (or even nine-figure) deal next summer. On ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and the Hoop Collective podcast, Bobby Marks said, “One team told me…that they think [VanVleet] is going to get between $25 and $30 million per season.”
To the casual NBA fan, paying that much money for VanVleet may seem outrageous, but the combination of his rapid improvement for a great team and the specter of a weak free-agent market make him a logical candidate to sign a big contract in July.
However, VanVleet may not be the only Raptor employee getting a pay raise next year. After a triumphant 2018-19 season, longtime Raptors president Masai Ujiri may be on the move to the division rival New York Knicks.
Per Newsday‘s Steve Popper: “[…] Many in the Raptors organization believe that…changes could come higher on the organizational chart, and that if the Knicks’ struggles continue, at season’s end, [owner James] Dolan will make an effort to convince Masai Ujiri to come to New York. And the fear within the Raptors organization is that Ujiri will go.”
Popper cited that Ujiri’s reputation is that of a prodigious organization builder and that he’s now turned both the Raptors and the Nuggets into terrific clubs with strong cultures. The Knicks have not been a “terrific club” nor had a “strong culture” in many years, so if Dolan lucks into luring Ujiri to the Big Apple, New York may finally have a legitimate reason to hope for the first time since Patrick Ewing was around.
If Ujiri heads to New York, he might not be the only new managerial face in town.
On November 10, following a 21-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry addressed the assembled media and stated that they were not happy with the direction of the team. The following day, a report from ESPN’s Malika Andrews and Adrian Wojnarowski stated that Mills was “starting to lay the internal groundwork for the eventual dismissal of coach David Fizdale.”
Nearly a month later, the pressure has not let up. Per SNY’s Ian Begley, “one member of the organization said late last month that he expected management to fire Fizdale soon.”
The Knicks have lost nine of 11 games since the aforementioned press conference, so it’s not like the team has suddenly improved in the ensuing four weeks. But Mills and Perry are not blameless in this matter, either, having signed four power forwards in one summer and placed their young players in an incredibly stressful situation with little opportunity to succeed.
No matter what, one thing seems sure: Things are going to look very different next summer in New York.