EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet reportedly interests Suns

Jan 17, 2023, 9:19 AM | Updated: 9:31 am
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) controls the ball in front of Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVle...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) controls the ball in front of Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 26, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The Toronto Raptors carry a well-respected core of players, which is why their 20-24 record as of Tuesday morning has people pointing to them ahead of the NBA trade deadline.

They have a foursome who could help a contending team right now: point guard Fred VanVleet, shooting guard Gary Trent Jr., plus forwards Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby.

From the perspective of the Phoenix Suns, who likewise have a core of talented players that’s underachieved to some degree this year, Toronto is quite the interesting potential trade partner.

The Athletic’s Shams Charania on Tuesday linked the Suns to VanVleet, though how he reported Phoenix’s interest comes with a large asterisk.

The Suns and Magic have emerged as potential free-agent suitors for All-Star guard VanVleet, league sources say. VanVleet — the 2019 NBA champion and one of the league’s greatest undrafted success stories — spoke recently about his pending free-agency status in the offseason and how he remains focused on the Raptors: “I’m completely focused on his team. My loyalty is to this team and to this franchise and trying to get us back to the level that we’re accustomed to around here.”

Phoenix, as currently constructed, will not have the money to outright sign VanVleet in free agency, barring a massive sell-off. A big piece of that possibility would likely start with Chris Paul, whose $30.8 million deal in 2023-24 is only partially guaranteed.

VanVleet is on a $21.3 million salary this year that has a $22.8 million player option for next, but the soon-to-be 29-year-old will likely waive it to sign a longer-term deal.

However, the Suns do have contracts to trade for VanVleet now, then ink him to a longer-term deal this summer. That would allow them to gain his Bird rights and go into the luxury tax again.

VanVleet, despite his age and a down shooting season, could command upward of $30 million on a new contract, which is why he’s expected to decline his option.

The point guard is shooting 38% from the field, just 33% from three and averaging 18.2 points, 6.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. His game and ability to play off the ball in theory fits the Suns’ 0.5 offense, and regardless of Paul’s situation would be a fitting future pairing with Devin Booker.

But would the Suns packaging Jae Crowder’s contract with either Dario Saric’s or Landry Shamet’s, plus draft compensation, be enough for Toronto to move VanVleet by Feb. 9?

Is VanVleet even No. 1 on the Suns’ list of Raptors who could move the needle for them this year while fitting in long-term?

And could a bigger shakeup be on the table between the two teams?

Yahoo!’s Jake Fischer, who also highlighted the Raptors’ trade options on Tuesday, notes that Toronto has shown interest in bigs, including Phoenix center Deandre Ayton.

The Raptors were linked to Ayton in the summer, but it’s not known if that interest remains after the Suns matched a max contract offer to retain Ayton over the summer.

Again, how capable of spending big Phoenix will be at this trade deadline and next summer remains a mystery because of the current ownership situation.

Per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, big-money trades such as a VanVleet deal would likely need to be approved by outgoing owner Robert Sarver. Windhorst has added that it does not appear likely the NBA will certify and officially move incoming owner Mat Ishbia into place before the trade deadline. The people executing the move, president of basketball ops and GM James Jones, plus acting governor Sam Garvin, would have to give any deals a thumbs-up.

Whatever hurdles remain, the Raptors are at the forefront of league-wide talk. All four of their aforementioned players with high trade value could help Phoenix, but there certainly will be competition on the trade market if Toronto indeed goes into selling mode.

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