13:53 PM ET


Tim Bontempespen

Now that Fred Van Vliet has officially returned to the Toronto Raptors, he is pleased that the team is in a familiar position: He doubts it and doesn’t realize it.

I’m excited about what we have, Van Vliet said Tuesday morning at a virtual press conference about his new four-year, $85 million Raptors contract. I think we’re going back to where we were before Kauha [Leonard], where people are watching us again, and that’s not a bad place.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us and we need to improve as individuals, and then we’ll go there to see what we can do. I’m excited. I can’t wait to get back to work.

The feeling of being missed is a feeling a security guard in Rockford, Illinois is used to. After leaving Wichita four years ago, he is known to have gone to his party after the draw and said he wanted to bet on himself and tweet later: Put it on you.

His spokesman stood in front of a Tuesday banner with his personal FVV logo and a poker chip with Bet On Yourself on it. The videos and the mantra became synonymous with VanVleet, whose contract is the biggest free agent ever awarded, and he admitted that the interest in both was strange.

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It’s strange, he says. Everyone who knows me knows how I feel, so this is ridiculous. But I always feel like I’m right, so I don’t care. I always felt like I knew what I was talking about when I was up there and I had to talk. I meant those words. It came from the heart, but I felt I was right and I knew it would work for me.

At the time, I may have been one of the few who believed it, but today we’re here. I think it’s more interesting to see you standing on your two [legs] and doing so, and then people will follow you and jump on the cart and they’ll start to see it after you’ve shown it to them.

It’s a nice time for me when I see this sequel grow and I see everyone trying to pretend to be losers and making bets. Now it’s mainstream, which is hilarious for me.

Van Vliet’s continued improvement during his four years in Toronto, as well as his resilience and defensive courage, despite his declining NBA status, have become important elements of the identity the Raptors have created over the past seasons. His push in the 2019 NBA playoffs, both in the second half of the Eastern Conference final against the Milwaukee Bucks and in the NBA final against the State Golden Warriors, helped Toronto win the 2019 NBA title, and he has advanced his career in all areas after starting last season alongside good friend and mentor Kyle Lowry.

Now, according to Van Vliet, he is hoping for a number of other individual prizes – which, although he refused to mention them, will probably include the All-Star Pier, after racing for a final season. But his main goal is to win another championship.

All the individual prices you can imagine… even though I don’t publicly share them because I don’t like them… …but I have a lot of things I want to do, Van Vliet said. But now I’m just stuck in the next championship. That feeling of winning the championship is better than anything I’ve ever done in my life, in my career. Apart from my children, it’s all about personal travel and the achievements that can be achieved.

So, when I try to make it to the next championship, I get fixated.

In any case, the Raptors are starting the season from Tampa, Florida, after the team announced last week that the season could not start in Toronto because of border complications due to the current COVID 19 pandemic. The team faced similar problems in June when it traveled to Florida for a training camp before the NBA held its bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Van Vliet said he is looking forward to the day when he and the team can return to the Scotiabank Arena without playing for Toronto fans for almost a year.

I think it’s less biting because we haven’t played for the fans for so long. But also, as soon as we knew that Toronto was as far up in the sky as we could get back, I was just glad it was warm somewhere, Van Vliet laughed.

We hope to spend some time there and do what we have to do, and then at some point return to Toronto, of course according to all the guidelines of COVID. Health and safety come first. So obviously we miss our fans and we’re looking forward to seeing them again.

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