The 25-year-old struggled with consistency, fought through a thumb injury that required surgery, saw his performance bottom out in the early rounds of the Raptors’ playoff run, became a father, caught fire on the court with enough fervor to erase all memory of said earlier struggles, played an integral role in Toronto claiming its first-ever NBA Championship and scored a career-high 34 points on opening night Tuesday as the Raptors raised their banner.
The undercurrent running through VanVleet’s rise to NBA champion and pillar of what Toronto hopes to build moving forward is the uncertainty of his contract situation.
VanVleet is entering the final year of a two-year deal he signed heading into the 2018-19 season and, given his growth and what projects to be a thin free-agent class, he could be in line for a significant payday this summer.
Should he be given the choice, the decision in his mind is clear.
“I’ve been here. This is the team that gave me my chance, I think we understand that. I’m not gonna speak too much on free agency this year just ’cause it’s a business and I have to do what’s best for me and my family,” VanVleet said during an appearance on Tim and Sid on Wednesday.
“But, I mean, I’ve been on record about how I feel about this place. This organization knows how I feel about this place. So in a perfect world, we know what would happen.”
But VanVleet is still reflecting on his unforgettable 2018-19 campaign.
The 25-year-old shared a final moment with the Larry O’Brien trophy Tuesday, placing his hand upon it during the pre-game ceremony as if saying goodbye to an old friend.
“That was like, psychically, telepathically, ‘alright brother I’ll see you in June,'” said VanVleet.
“Put that energy into the universe. You’ve got to speak it into existence.”
“Alright brother, I’ll see you in June”
— Tim and Sid (@timandsid) October 24, 2019
As his name was called to receive his championship ring, VanVleet was met with thunderous applause — an occurrence in Toronto that, although common, has not dulled as an experience.
“It means a lot, Toronto is a unique place where you have a really rabid fanbase. And when you have that you get the best of the best and the worst of the worst, so I understand that when I don’t play well — and especially last year in the playoffs when I wasn’t playing up to standard — I was getting killed,” VanVleet said.
“And on the flip side of that, when I was playing great I was getting the most love out of anybody.”
When faced with those ups and downs — and the reaction that comes from them — as he so often was last year, VanVleet’s mentality echoes the presentism preached by the now-departed Kawhi Leonard.
“While you’re in the middle of it, you’re just trying to stay level-headed, you’re just focused on the next game,” he said. “I think for, for me, it’s not getting carried away on either side of it. So when it’s not going well, I’m not outside of myself and when things are going great, just staying true to who I am along the way, and I think that plays a part of it as well.”
VanVleet’s last 10 months have pushed the boundaries of how much one can fit in a single calendar year. If he has it his way, he’s just getting started.