Fred VanVleet on injuries, Raptors reaching new levels, extension talks

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet speaks candidly about injuries, why the time is now for Toronto to hit a championship level and whether he is interested in contract extension talks with Raptors.

Video Transcript

- Fred?

FRED VANVLEET: Mm-hmm.

- Can you tell us anything about any of your injuries?

[LAUGHTER]

Give us the list. When did this start? It's a very good hockey tradition. At the end of the season, we hear everyone's playing with broken legs and busted [INAUDIBLE] and stuff.

FRED VANVLEET: Well, I had right knee soreness.

[LAUGHTER]

And I had left hip flexor strain. I think that was the extent of my injuries this year.

- And with knee, can you elaborate a little bit more now that-- or if you want to-- about what the nature of it was and why it kind of lingered for so long.

FRED VANVLEET: I don't want to.

- All right.

FRED VANVLEET: In all seriousness, yeah, played pretty healthy for most of the year. Hit the floor or something in New Orleans, developed a bit of a bone bruise there. And that was just something that didn't go away quite as quickly as we all thought it would. And coming back on the other side of All Star, I think we had four or five and the schedule was tight and we were trying to win games.

So I opted to play through it. And I got through it. I got through it. It wasn't, you know, my best performances. I'll get better. I'll continue to work on my body and find different ways to be creative to be better and be more healthy and be stronger and more fit. And I take full responsibility for that.

And, you know, that is what it is. I certainly don't want to be missing any playoff games. But I'm watching a lot of basketball injuries that are happening.

- So with your knee-- neither will-- neither are kind of an ongoing long-term thing, and should all get cleared up?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, fairly quickly.

- [INAUDIBLE]. There were a few years with Kyle early in his time here, where things would accumulate over the course of the season and he was looking at the playoffs. And I know a lot of the talk within the organization was, how do we manage the minutes differently or the workload differently?

Have you had that kind of conversation with them? Is that a conversation you think that needs to happen or that would help? And is that something that you would be open to is sort of looking at things a little bit differently over the course of a long season?

FRED VANVLEET: I'm always open to finding solutions, you know, to problems. Again, I think what I can focus on myself is how I can better myself and how I can find different, you know, treatments or different routines or different things that I can do to make sure that I can withstand some of this stuff and be better going forward.

I'm not really going to speak about our conversations we have behind closed doors. But I think. All in all, it was a pretty top-heavy year, as we all know. And that didn't help when you have nicks and bruises. So other than that, you know, it's on me to be better.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

- [INAUDIBLE] point. I feel like I ask you at every stage where you think you are. And I think the last couple of stages you said building, building. Now that you've been able to see what the [INAUDIBLE] during this year, and looking ahead, where do you think this group is?

FRED VANVLEET: Well, it's time. It's time now. You know, it's about as much building as we all want to do. I think we have the pieces. And now how do you put those pieces together? Can you add a few pieces around the board? And then how do you make it work? How does it make more sense to be the most efficient, the most lethal team that you can put out on the floor?

And I think we can definitely get better without adding anything. So whether we add some more shooting or a big, you know, that would obviously help. But I think the team that we have right now, if we just played a little bit better and smarter and more-- and I think we can use our strengths a little bit better. And that's something that we'll address as players, you know, in the offseason and try to come back next year.

And just-- it's weird to be in such an up-in-the-air season, where nobody thought you're going to be any good, but you know you're good. And so we were playing for a championship. But it was kind of free basketball, so to speak. So I think coming back with a singular mind, singular goal in mind, I think that will help and let us all fall into our roles and be the most effective team we can be.

- And actually everyone calls you the leader. I don't know if people think about the evolutions and what you have kind of staged your leadership.

FRED VANVLEET: Right.

- How has that growth looked for you from the start of the season to now where you're at?

FRED VANVLEET: Well, I think I just did as much as I could early on to set the tone. And then you got to let the team unfold and blossom along the way. So I think a lot of the young guys grew in those roles in terms of leadership and being accountable. I think adding Thad helped a lot in terms of just having another voice of somebody that can give a different opinion that's played 15 years or whatever he's played. So I think having those type of voices in the locker room helps.

But there's no better teacher than experience. And so now, the very first time we get back together, I'll have a whole playoff-- six games of playoffs to use as, you know-- when somebody makes a mistake or when we're not doing things the right way, we can look back and see where that affects you. And I don't think that was necessarily the case the whole year.

Because if they don't know, they don't know. You know what I mean? And myself included. I'm not saying, like, it was all on them. But that was a problem for a while. It was, like, there's no point of reference, you know, for a young team. And now we have that.

- Do you think [INAUDIBLE] guys flying around is sustainable in the NBA?

FRED VANVLEET: Sustainable in terms of what?

- Year-to year consistent success?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I think so. I mean, we just did it.

- Well, you also [INAUDIBLE] in the first round of play. I'm just wondering--

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, that's what I'm saying. It's sustainable in terms of like winning the championship or what do you mean?

- Like, playing against the next level?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, I think so because again you've got to look at it like we've shown a little bit of everything. And I think there's room for that in every game. So I think what we've been best at around here is having multiple tools in the toolbox. So let that be one thing, maybe not the only thing. You know, we use those lineups, you know, for extended periods of time.

And then we might go big. We might go small. Like, you just have to have everything on task. But I think we saw it have a lot of success. But I think, again, basketball is such a flexible sport that you got to have different options. And different things, you know, call for different matchups, different series. I think having options never hurts.

- On that note, and to what [? Kayla ?] said about internal improvement, I know you're not [INAUDIBLE]. How much of that improvement to get to that next level and stay at that next level is already on this roster? And how how much do you think needs to be-- how much does it need to be supplemented [INAUDIBLE]?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, I think most of it, honestly. I really do. I think, you know, we're seeing more parody than ever around the league. I think, you know, people that-- teams that we thought were favorites, you know, didn't end up looking that way. Like, there's a lot of things happening. The league is changing that way.

So I think with the group that we have, again, if we can polish it up and maybe make it more sense for a playoff-style basketball, add a couple more pieces of things that we might need in certain scenarios that will help. Felt a little tough at times with all the injuries, you know, trying to plug guys in and out.

So again, I'll let the management, you know, answer the questions in terms of acquiring new players. But as far as what we got, I think we got a ton of experience this year and a really good core group of guys that if we get better at what we do and how we play together, I think we'll be better next year, for sure.

- [INAUDIBLE] your able to have some conversations about the future. How interested are you in having those conversations?

FRED VANVLEET: I love having conversations.

[LAUGHTER]

I love having conversations. So, yeah, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

- What about conversations with this team? How [INAUDIBLE], especially if you like this group [INAUDIBLE] text a lot. Do you call? How much are you in the ears or their phones in the offseason?

FRED VANVLEET: We'll see. I don't know. We'll see. I think, you know, I'll be present. You know, I check on guys anyway. So I'll be around, definitely will take some time away from these guys, if you can believe that. But then we'll be right back to it.

We got a great development plan for the young guys. So I like popping in and out and being around and working out with the guys and spending some time in summer league and things like that. So I'll definitely be active.

- Fred, how important is Scottie's development into next season? And what do you think he can bring next season that will sort of elevate the team's game?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, well, I think he's just got a whole crash course on, you know, what it's like. I think it's probably as good of a year as you can have as a guy in his position. He got a ton of minutes, a ton of experiences at every position, offensive, defensively. He had some injuries he had to come back from. You know, he pretty much did it all.

So I'm excited to see what he comes back looking like next year. He's obviously a heck of a player. And he really helped us, you know, in a lot of ways. And he was able to have playoff success. And, you know, he crossed every box, you know. He checked every box.

And what that looks like for him next year, I don't know. I'm not really into, like, trying to, you know, put that pressure on guys and what they're going to be. But if he comes back any percent better than he was this year, we'll be all right.

- Fred, you when you made the All-Star team, you said whether you make it or not, this is just the beginning. You made the All-Star team. We'll have to wait and see about all defense. But what's next for you?

FRED VANVLEET: More, championship. I think, again, like, all of those things are great and cool and everything. But nothing compares to winning the championship. And I want to be known as a championship player. And everything else will fall where it is. We can add the stats and the accolades up at the end when I'm retired.

But I think that's my number-one goal is, you know, getting us back to championship level and winning the championship. And that's really all I think about on a daily basis is how can I get myself to that level, and how do I help get the team to that level.

- Fred what does it say about this group of guys that they not only fought back in the series, battled adversity, all season, but they stuck together on the court and continued trusting each other on the court? And a lot of times when a team is down 3-0, they kind of turn their back on each other. So what does that say about the team?

FRED VANVLEET: It just shows the fight and the will. I think we answered a lot of tests, showed up a little late to the test. But we answered some of those questions. You know, it took too long to get to that level for many different reasons. But I was proud of the fight that they showed.

Game 3 hurts a lot, for sure, because I think it's a different series if we get that one. But being down 3-0-- I've obviously been on two teams that's been swept, so I with that game 4 feels like. And the guys, man, they really showed up, and they didn't pack it in. And I think there's some credit-- that's commendable. But not really here for moral victories or anything like that. I think we should use this as a learning experience and a stepping stool to get better for next year.

- Is every offseason a new one? Like, do you reinvent, sort of, whatever-- can you take from the previous year and apply it to this year? Or is each one a new one? Because if you're talking about, you know, change in your body or getting your body ready for what it went through this year, do you have to-- like, [INAUDIBLE] a guy like Kyle, for instance, and say, what did you do? Or is it just something that you just reinvent by yourself?

FRED VANVLEET: A little bit of everything. You know, I'm never too proud to ask for help or to seek out advice. I think I'm at that crossroads where, like, 20 points isn't a good game anymore. You know, I went from, like, under rated, undrafted to overrated, like, very fast. So I got to-- I got to start getting outside the box. You know what I mean? I got to start doing things that I've never done before.

I got to get uncomfortable. I got to, you know, find ways to get better. So at least I can say I've done everything that I possibly could. And there's still more things that I can explore personally to get better. And I'm looking forward to doing that this summer.

- How long does it take you to actually kind of mentally unplug when the season is done? And how much time do you actually give yourself?

FRED VANVLEET: Probably like a week. Yeah, probably like a week. As far as unplugging, it's never really unplugged all the way, you know. Like, there's great moments when I'm playing with the kids and things like that. But I learned probably two years ago it's easier to just stay in shape than it is to try to get back in shape.

So I'll give myself some time to rehab and, you know, get these little nags, nicks, and bruises back feeling good. And then, you know, I've put together a plan to kind of ease my way into working. But it's still all work. So I like to stay locked in as much as possible.

- Fred, you spent Media Day-- you asked you about the nuances of Pascal's becoming the guy with Kyle leaving. How did that feel this year? And you got the Rookie of the Year. This organization has a lot of faith that it's gonna be at that level. How does all that work? How did it feel this year? And how does it work moving forward?

FRED VANVLEET: How did it look?

- Sorry?

FRED VANVLEET: How did it look?

- Looked pretty good this year.

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, felt good felt pretty good.

[LAUGHTER]

Felt pretty good. Yeah, I think, you know-- I think Pascal looked very comfortable, felt very comfortable. I think, myself, you know, I made it work. I think there's definitely-- again, I think that's probably our biggest-- my biggest thing on the agenda is to figure out how do these pieces work together? And how do we build that up to a championship contention?

Because you look on every championship team. There's probably a guy on the bench that could have started. There's probably a guy in the top seven that could have averaged 20 points but didn't. Like, there's-- and once-- that's what a winning championship is about. It's, like, sacrificing. And, you know, I don't-- it's not necessarily my job to say who sacrifices what.

I think that's something that's going to naturally happen as we get back together, and we put together our team again. But something that for sure we're going to have to deal with going forward because we have so much talent and so many young guys emerging, you know, with pretty good players around them. So it'll be a process.

But I'm looking forward to, you know, when we do get back together, how are we going to play, and how is it going to work, and what's it going to look like. And I'm not concerned at all. I think it'll be an easy transition. But it will be something to think about, for sure.

- Fred, the guys on the team that, you know, weren't getting as many minutes, sort of what's your advice for them to try and take that next step up in the rotation?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, well, you got to be-- that's when you've got to be the craziest is when, you know, you're not playing and when you're-- you got to try to go prove it. So, I mean, they don't get much time off. They get right back in the lab. For the guys that's going to summer league, you know, they should be ramping up to get ready to go to summer league and make a mark and make that jump.

And that was my mindset, as a young player, was proving that I should have been playing, proving that I need to be playing, and proving that if I go to summer league, I don't belong here. I shouldn't-- I'm too good to play here. You know, that's the mindset. You got to just try to rise above that and stay confident and just continue to work and get better.

- Fred, as you look back, what do you think it meant to this team, you know, reflecting now, to be back in Toronto this year, even if it meant a couple months of playing in front of no fans?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, it meant a lot. I think-- I mean, again, it's so weird to even answer that question, right? Because, you know, we were never supposed to be in Tampa. Like, this is not, you know, a thing. And we made the most of it. But, like, if you were in normal life, that's, like, you just displaced a whole professional team is kind of weird when you think about it.

But being back, you know, it's where we're supposed to be. It's comfortable. Having our fans, having an actual home court advantage, and building that back up, I think all of those things are great for what we're trying to do. And I know that once we get this franchise back to a championship level where I think we can be, knocking on the door, I think everything else will fall in place.

- At the beginning this season for media day you were asked about Malachi. You said ther was room for growth. You wanted to see him more disruptive on defense. He has all the tools for it and takes more shots. How did you see him progress?

FRED VANVLEET: Well, I think he showed-- he showed it in the week or whatever he played. I think that was when I sat. He played maybe four games before his hamstring injury. I think he showed, you know, what he can do. And Malachi can play. I think there's no question about that, you know.

And how that fits with us, and what we're doing going forward, I'm not sure. But I think he's a heck of a player. He's got a great potential. He can shoot. He can score. He plays really well in ball screens. He can defend.

So he'll-- hopefully he'll have some more opportunity going forward. And I know that when he gets his chance-- if he plays extended minutes, he plays well. And how do you-- how do you crack that? How do you get into that rotation? And I think that's the challenge he has to, you know, overcome.

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