Fred VanVleet: This Season 'Most Un-Pure Year of Basketball,' All About Business

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2021

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) during an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet expressed dismay Saturday with the 2020-21 NBA season, saying it is being held to make money rather than for the enjoyment of the game.

According to TSN's Josh Lewenberg, VanVleet said:

"To be honest, this is probably the most un-pure year of basketball I've ever been a part of, just from the whole league and rushing the season back. It's pretty much all about business this year on every level. It's hard to hide it now.

"The NBA is a great balance of the pure love and joy of one of the best sports in the world mixed with a billion dollar industry, and I think this year the industry side is taking precedent over some of the love and the joy... But there are good days and bad days.

"We did vote on what season we wanted, they gave a few options and most of the players picked this option. So we're in it, which is why I can't complain about it, but I can point out that this is what is and the pros and cons that come with that. It's very conflicting."

This season has been a struggle for the Raptors (23-34), as they are a disappointing 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Perhaps part of the reason for their lack of success has been their displacement, as Canada's COVID-19 protocols have forced them to play their home games in Tampa, Florida.

The 2019-20 season ended much later than usual after it was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That led to a quick turnaround for the 2020-21 season.

Only 72 days separated the last game of the 2020 NBA Finals and the first game of this campaign, which gave teams that participated in the 2019-20 restart little time to prepare.

The Raptors reached the second round of the playoffs last season, meaning they were among the eight teams with the shortest offseasons.

Toronto won its first NBA championship in 2018-19, and there was hope among Raptors fans that the team would vie for another title this season, but the Raptors have not looked the part of a contender.

That isn't the fault of the 27-year-old VanVleet, though, as he has enjoyed the best statistical season of his five-year career and established himself as one of the best undrafted players in recent memory.

In 45 games, VanVleet is averaging 19.5 points, 6.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 3.3 three-pointers per contest while shooting 39.1 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc.

If the regular season ended today, the Raptors would be one of four Eastern Conference teams to take part in the play-in tournament for the postseason, though they are up by only percentage points over the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards for the 10th seed.

The NBA's decision to start the season in December rather than give players a longer offseason was undoubtedly financially influenced, especially since it became clear teams would not play in full arenas this season.

That decision has been financially beneficial to the players as well since they're earning full salaries, but it has also put them in a tough position in terms of physical and mental health.

VanVleet recently returned from a hip injury and will look to play a big role in the Raptors' late-season push.

Perhaps if Toronto makes the play-in tournament and then qualifies for the postseason, it will make the season a more enjoyable experience for VanVleet.