It’s been nearly six weeks since the Toronto Raptors were eliminated from the playoffs.
All-star point guard Fred VanVleet was forced to watch the fateful Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers from the sidelines due to a hip injury.
But the 28-year-old said on Wednesday that he’s now back on the court and feels “great” amid his first regular off-season since winning the 2019 championship.
CBC Sports caught up with VanVleet to discuss his injury recovery, the Raptors’ future, his nomination for the NBA’s social-justice award and more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CBC Sports: This is your first normal off-season in a while. How are you taking advantage of that?
VanVleet: I feel great right now. I was hurt towards the end of the season. So having a chance to have time to rehab and just rest, reset and then now start by working out. So I’m feeling good. There’s a longer runway to try to get back to season form. So the last two years have been a blur and it’s definitely been a wild roller-coaster. But I think just getting this season back on track, it’ll certainly help me individually and I’m excited about that.
CBC Sports: How’s that recovery coming along?
VanVleet: I’m doing good. I got back on the court this week, which felt great. It’s the best I’ve felt in a while. So it’s going to be a long process to get back to where I need to be. But definitely I find my most peace when I’m able to work. I need to work and the body’s feeling good.
CBC Sports: What do you see as the next step the Raptors can take next season?
VanVleet: We set the bar pretty high for ourselves. People didn’t think we were going to be any good and then we dropped into a five seed [in the Eastern Conference playoffs]. So the sky’s the limit. We’ve got to be thinking championship. And that’s really the only goal for us at this point. Anything less than that? I think we won’t be happy. So we’ve got to be thinking Finals, championship, winning our conference, winning the division.
WATCH | Raptors eliminated from playoffs at hands of 76ers:
CBC Sports: Have you been watching much of the playoffs?
VanVleet: Yeah, I’ve been watching the games. I usually don’t. But just being at home and obviously getting back in the flow of things, just watching and seeing how it plays out and seeing what we can apply. You got to try to stay in tuned with how the game’s changing.
CBC Sports: What can you learn from a Celtics team that was .500 halfway through the year and made this run to the Finals, and then a Warriors team you’ve met in the Finals before and have been there for a while?
VanVleet: I think it’s just a certain level and the separator is not that far apart because there’s a lot of teams that are talented. I think we have a lot of weapons on our team, but there’s a certain level of basketball that you have to play and that’s called championship basketball. And it’s not always about the individual, it’s more about the team.
CBC Sports: You mentioned it was the Raptors’ “first year together.” I’ve seen he team referred to as ‘Vision six-foot-nine,’ given the number of players on the roster around that height. How do you see that vision coming together?
VanVleet: Well, listen, we had success with it, right? And I think there’s always room for tools and weapons that you have. I’m not sure you could sustain that throughout a whole season or even throughout a whole game. But to have the luxury to go to that at any point in time, depending on the matchups or the situation, I think that’s a huge boost for us. And we’ve seen it work. So again, go back to the drawing board, practice, try to get out the kinks and do it again.
WATCH | VanVleet leads thrilling triple-OT victory over Heat:
CBC Sports: The Warriors are up 3-2. How do you see the rest of the finals playing out?
CBC Sports: The bubble was two years ago now and it became a groundswell of social-justice action with the league and especially the players in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake, both at the hands of white police officers. How do you feel the league has kept up its commitments to social justice since then?
VanVleet: It’s definitely changed. And I think there’s just a bigger lens and a bigger scope and spotlight on things. So I’m not going to let them off the hook. I think there’s still a lot more work that can be done, but I think that there is a certain type of awakening that happened inside the bubble and not being blind or numb to the things that are going around and that are happening around us. And so I’m proud to be in the NBA. I think that we do a good job, probably one of the best in professional sports, but we certainly have a lot more work to do. So I’m excited to just keep working.
CBC Sports: What sort of work is that?
CBC Sports: You were nominated for the NBA’s social justice award. What did that mean to you?
VanVleet: It’s cool when you try to go do things out of your heart and things that you’re passionate about, that you care about, and you receive praise or recognition for that. It’s not necessarily why I do it, but it doesn’t hurt. … There’s so much negativity out there. So anything when people support positivity, I love that.
CBC Sports: Tell me about Blueprint and what you’re doing with American Express.
VanVleet: Amex and I have partnered up to launch the Amex Blueprint Program, which is dedicated to backing both entrepreneurs and small business owners. The program consists of allocating $1 million across 100 different participants, and each participant will receive a $10,000 grant alongside access to mentorship programs, whether that’s one-on-ones with professionals, small group settings, or AMAs (ask me anything) or stuff like that with other industry tastemakers or experts in their field. So alongside the money, we give access to mentorship. And then also they’ll be included in the DMZ, which is one of the fastest, biggest growing incubators in new tech. So it’s a pretty cool program. It’s our second year doing it. The first year was very, very successful. And so we’re excited about relaunching it and doing it again this year. Visit DMZ.ca/amexblueprint to enroll and applications are open until July 26.