The contract marks the NBA’s first max deal of the free agency period.
The 29-year-old averaged 19.3 points (39/34/90 shooting splits), 7.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 36.7 minutes over 69 games for the Raptors last season. VanVleet declined a $22.8 million option to play in Toronto next season, instead entering unrestricted free agency for a second time in his seven-year career.
One of the most accomplished undrafted players in league history, VanVleet graduated from Wichita State in 2016 and received an invite to training camp in Toronto, where he earned a roster spot and split his time with the franchise’s G League affiliate. The 6-foot-1, 197-pound guard played 25 minutes off the bench on the Raptors’ run to their only championship in 2019, scoring 22 points in the title-clinching Game 6 victory.
VanVleet started alongside six-time All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry in the 2019-20 campaign, and they led the Raptors to 53 wins and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in the absence of Kawhi Leonard. VanVleet earned a four-year, $85 million contract from Toronto in 2020 free agency, and his performance as a show-runner eventually made the aging Lowry expendable in 2021. VanVleet earned his first All-Star bid a year later, when he averaged a 19-4-6 on 40/38/87 shooting splits as a bulldog on a top-10 defensive team.
The Raptors are trending in the opposite direction. They have missed the postseason twice in the past three years and lost in the first round of the 2022 playoffs, despite the presence of VanVleet, two-time All-NBA forward Pascal Siakam and a host of versatile talent, including OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes.
Asked in the aftermath of a season-ending loss to the Chicago Bulls in the play-in tournament if Toronto’s slide would impact his free-agency decision, VanVleet told reporters, “I think we’ve built something special here. My whole NBA life is here, so I think that holds some value and some weight. I think the relationship with management and coaching is all in a great place, and that hasn’t changed. I don’t necessarily want to go through another season like this. I think that we can certainly be better than we were this year.”
Toronto fired head coach Nick Nurse a week later and replaced him with first-timer Darko Rajakovic, who spent the last decade as an assistant for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies.
No member of the Raptors was safe from trade speculation this past season, including VanVleet, who drew interest from the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Suns, among others at the February deadline, per Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer. Toronto ultimately gambled on its ability to retain VanVleet in free agency.