Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet will be a hot commodity in free agency. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A big market bereft of a star point guard, the New York Knicks have everything except winning to lure one, whether in the free-agent market or via trade.

With a proven coach in Tom Thibodeau and a huge cap space, the Knicks are ready to make a big splash. The $22 million question now is would Fred VanVleet be worth it?

One day after Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star point guard Chris Paul was linked to New York, a new rumor has emerged: The Knicks are expected to offer VanVleet a huge payday worth $22 million in annual salary.

VanVleet is coming off a career season as he continues his stellar rise since popping into NBA consciousness during the Toronto Raptors’ title run last year. As a full-time starter this season, the undrafted guard from Wichita State averaged 17.6 points, 6.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals, all career-highs. He shot just a shade under 40 percent from the deep. He also led the league in deflections with 4.2 per game, making him a coveted two-way player at the backcourt.

While the 26-year old guard has limitations, as shown in the Boston Celtics series, his basketball peak is still ahead of him. He could come in right away as the No. 1 option in a reconstructed Knicks offense or be the No. 2 behind RJ Barrett.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported earlier that league executives believe that Malcolm Brogdon’s four-year, $85 million deal he got last summer will set the market for VanVleet. That’s within the range of the Knicks’ rumored offer.

However, VanVleet could emerge as the top free agent in the market, thereby setting up a bidding war for his services.

Back in December, when the NBA market was still healthy, ESPN’s Bobby Marks said that VanVleet was valued by one team between $25 million-$30 million per season.

Should it become a full-blown bidding war, the Knicks have the most money to spend, but they are going to face competition against the Detroit Pistons, who, like them, have the cap space and coach Dwane Casey, VanVleet’s former coach in Toronto. The Phoenix Suns, who have emerged as one of the rising power in the West, will also be in the mix, while the Raptors can offer him not only the nostalgia of their historic title run, but also the winning stability under Masai Ujiri’s leadership.

One NBA agent I spoke with believes VanVleet will stay in Toronto.

“I’d say no (on VanVleet coming to New York). I think Toronto keeps him,” the NBA agent told Empire Sports Media.

According to The Athletic’s Blake Murphy, there’s a scenario wherein the Raptors can sign VanVleet to a staggered four-year, $70 million deal while maintaining their cap flexibility for 2021.  It remains to be seen if VanVleet is willing to run it back with the Raptors on a discount or if he’ll bet on himself and go where the money is regardless of the situation.

“I’m a free agent, so I think about it every day. Basketball is pretty easy for me, so I can separate that when I’m on the court. It doesn’t affect the way I play, or the way I approach my professionalism every day. But, sure, Coronavirus gave me a new perspective on life and I’d like to think I already had a good perspective, but definitely put things in perspective,” said VanVleet after losing the series to the Celtics.“So I’ll wait and see how free agency plays out, but at the end of the day, I’m not writing a cheque to myself, so I’ve just gotta wait and see what happens, and I’ll feel better about the year that I had. I wish it would have ended with a championship, but that didn’t happen for us,” he added. 

VanVleet waited for so long for this big moment to arrive.  It took him long years to rise from being undrafted to a marquee free agent, but he’s also one bad decision away from falling hard. The Knicks can aggressively go after him, but sometimes making a splash on a marquee free agent without a solid team in place could make unwarranted expectations and make such a contract an albatross. VanVleet and the Knicks have big decisions to make.

This article first appeared on Empire Sports Media and was syndicated with permission.

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