We are less than two weeks away from the trade deadline and the Toronto Raptors remain the most interesting team ahead of it. They are five games below .500 and have just begun a seven-game road trip that ends four days before the trade deadline. By then, the Raptors will know what direction they want to go in depending on the results.
If they continue to spiral and decide to trade some of their best players, Fred VanVleet has emerged as a major candidate to get moved. The 6-foot-1 guard is having a down-shooting season but is in the middle of a hot stretch right now. He has a $22.8 million player option for next season which he is expected to decline and enter free agency. He is eligible to extend for up to four years, $114.2 million but could earn more as a free agent. His impending free agency status and the impracticality for the Raptors to pay all their best players are pressing his trade candidacy.
Below are five teams that would be good fits for VanVleet and have enough assets to make a strong offer.
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VanVleet has been linked to Phoenix as a potential successor at point guard for Chris Paul. The Suns are set to be capped out for the foreseeable future, so if they want to acquire a guard like VanVleet, it'll have to be via trade. They only need to send out $16.9 million to match salaries for him so they can get there with a combination of expiring contracts like Jae Crowder, Dario Saric, and Torrey Craig. They also can offer multiple future first-round picks to get a deal done.
While VanVleet would be the point guard of the future he could still play alongside Paul. He is no stranger to playing with other starting point guards after his success playing next to Kyle Lowry in Toronto. This could give the Suns the option of playing smaller for certain matchups. If the Suns want to avoid having both guards, they could look to trade Paul now, which could open up bigger trade possibilities. For example, sending out Paul's $28.3 million with one of their expiring contracts could be enough to take back VanVleet and another player like OG Anunoby or Gary Trent Jr.
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One of Dallas' biggest weaknesses heading into the season is their lack of a ballhandler and playmaker outside of Luka Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie. They tried to fill that void with Facundo Campazzo and Kemba Walker but neither signing worked out. Their best bet at adding that additional guard will be in the trade market. VanVleet may be a bit undersized for the Mavericks' liking but he's more than good enough defensively to make up for it. His ability to create his own shot and hit threes off the dribble would be huge for Dallas' offense.
Like the Suns, the Mavericks would also need to send out $16.9 million to match salaries for VanVleet. Some packages that work include Tim Hardaway Jr. by himself, Davis Bertans and a small salary like Josh Green or JaVale McGee, or two medium-sized salaries like Dwight Powell and Reggie Bullock. The question is if the Mavericks are willing to trade enough draft compensation for him. They can only trade two first-round picks this season and may prefer to hold onto them since they'd be able to trade up to four this summer. By then, another All-Star could become available to them.
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Aside from Miami's dire need for a power forward, they could probably do better at point guard as well. Kyle Lowry has declined significantly since moving to the Heat and has often been outshined by some of their bench guards. VanVleet could provide the shooting and defensive intensity the Heat require if they want a shot at making a deep playoff run again.
Would the Raptors be willing to trade another one of their best players to an Eastern Conference rival again? ESPN's Zach Lowe likes the idea of VanVleet in Miami and proposes a framework featuring Lowry going back to Toronto with a first-round pick for VanVleet. The Heat can trade up to three first-round picks right now if more are needed to meet the Raptors' pricetag. Like Dallas, the question for Miami becomes if VanVleet is the type of player they are willing to trade their assets for or wait out for a better All-Star. Any such deal between the Heat and Raptors would likely require both teams to swap equal salaries due to their respective proximity to the luxury tax.
Los Angeles Clippers
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This iteration of the Clippers since acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George hasn't featured an above-average traditional lead point guard. That could change with reports that they are looking for point guard help and that they are interested in Mike Conley Jr., according to Marc Stein. As mentioned in HoopsHype's trade guide, the Clippers could get in the mix for a veteran guard like Conley or Lowry. VanVleet would be the more optimal upgrade, but it's unclear if they have enough assets to get it done.
Per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, the Clippers are interested in VanVleet and he proposes a framework along the lines of Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Brandon Boston, a first-round pick, and one or two second-rounders for him. The Clippers are currently limited to trading just one first-round pick in either 2028 or 2029, but that still serves as a strong package worthy of consideration if offered.
Los Angeles Lakers
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The Lakers still have a shot to make noise in the West with the way LeBron James and Anthony Davis are playing. But they need to make a trade this year to improve and deepen the roster if they are serious, particularly one involving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million salary. They also need to decide soon if they want to pursue free agents with their projected $30 million amount or operate as an over-the-cap team. If they choose the latter, which became a bigger possibility with their recent acquisition of Rui Hachimura, it would make sense to trade for multiple players now.
The Lakers could still match for VanVleet despite trading Kendrick Nunn with a package featuring Patrick Beverley and either Lonnie Walker or a combination of two or three minimum salaries players. That would serve as the easiest framework along with draft picks since that would keep the Raptors below the luxury tax. If Westbrook is involved, that could open up a framework where the Lakers acquire more depth pieces like Gary Trent Jr. and another role player like Chris Boucher or Thaddeus Young along with VanVleet. Perhaps this is the type of deal that could motivate the Lakers to trade the two first-round picks they are limited to trading.
Story originally appeared on HoopsHype