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Longtime Toronto Raptors star point guard Fred VanVleet provided some insight Friday into potential reasons why the Raptors disappointed this season despite the immense talent on their roster.
In the days leading up to Toronto’s season-ending play-in loss to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, VanVleet told Heavy.com’s Steve Bulpett about his frustrations over the Raptors’ development process:
“I’ve been screaming it for two years, you know what I mean? I think that at a certain point you can’t make anybody grow up. It’s going to happen at their own pace and their own speed, and that’s the frustrating part about maturity and just the development stage is that you can harp on it all you want to.
“The only real teacher is experience, so sometimes you’ve got to learn lessons the hard way. I think that a lot of these guys will be in great situations going forward. But even myself, there are a lot of things I had to go through as a young player to become the player that I am. That’s true for everybody. You’ve got to go through it to get through it.”
The Bulls’ come-from-behind 109-105 win saw them advance to face the Miami Heat for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto’s season is over, and it is possible VanVleet has played his final game with the franchise since he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
In seven seasons with the Raptors, VanVleet has become one of the NBA’s best guards after going undrafted player out of Wichita State.
He was named an All-Star for the first time in 2021-22 and played a big role in the Raptors winning their first and only NBA championship in 2019.
Since winning that title, it has been a roller-coaster ride for the Raptors and their fans. They reached the second round of the playoffs in 2020, missed the postseason with a 27-45 record the following season, got knocked out in the first round in 2022 and missed the playoffs again this season.
Last season felt like it was potentially the start of something special for the Raptors, though, as they went 48-34 and saw 2022 first-round draft pick Scottie Barnes named NBA Rookie of the Year.
Barnes joined an already solid roster headlined by VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby, giving Toronto one of the NBA’s most talented starting lineups.
For whatever reason, they did not mesh as well as hoped this season, and now the Raptors could look much different next season.
Both VanVleet and Trent can become free agents this offseason, and center Jakob Poeltl’s contract is expiring. Siakam also could be a trade candidate entering the last year of his deal.
Bulpett reported that a rival NBA executive told him, “I think everybody in the league knows that Toronto is going to be heading to a breakup.”
While it would be disappointing for the Raptors to have little to show for the roster they put together, they at least have a good foundation if they want to rebuild.
Barnes is the centerpiece, and both Siakam and Anunoby would likely be able to fetch a great deal of draft capital on the trade market.
Losing VanVleet and Trent for nothing would sting, though, especially since the former has been the heart and soul of the team for the past few seasons.