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Fred VanVleet Can Afford To Roast As Many Referees As He Wants

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JANUARY 30: Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul during the game against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center on January 30, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns beat the Raptors 114-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Fred VanVleet of the Toronto Raptors is not known as a particularly steamy orator, so we will enjoy Adam Silver's level of financial irritation after VanVleet tossed a Carolina-Reaper-pepper-level grenade at referee Ben Taylor last night. It was, like VanVleet himself, clinical, purposeful, and unapologetically hedge-trimmer indiscriminate, to wit:

And for the link-averse, the transcript:

In other words, VanVleet decided he had something to say after the Raptors lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, he said it, and mentally began the Venmo process even if it might hit $500,000, the bell Mark Cuban rang twice for criticizing officials. But even then, Cuban never named a name like VanVleet did with Taylor, inferring ongoing issues between him and Taylor.

And the proof of VanVleet's claim, courtesy Keerthika Uthayakumar of TSN:

Not that this necessarily proves anything, mind you. VanVleet is among the league's more devoted orators, though with eight technicals this year he has only half as many as Memphis' Dillon Brooks. The fine for them is an aggregate $19,000, but he will blithely speed past that, proving yet again that fines are mere hilarities.

Paul George got hit for 35 large two years ago for criticizing the officials generically after a loss to Dallas, and his most incendiary remark was a room temperature-level, “We’re putting a lot of pressure at the rim, it’s insane that we’re not getting these calls. Hopefully we’ll send a bunch of clips in. League’s gotta take a look at this ... Just a bunch of lies, can’t go too much further than that, it’s a bunch of lies. They know what’s going on.”

That's $35,000 and not an F-bomb in the bunch. VanVleet's version was not what lawyers like to call "an excited utterance;" in fact, he good-naturedly blamed The Athletic's Eric Koreen afterward, saying, “It’s your fault (for asking about the officiating). I took deep breaths and everything.”

In days gone by, referees handled grudges by turning the screw on players, and any fines the players incurred either for technicals or public criticism took a greater bite out of a much smaller check. They learned the value of risk-reward calculation. VanVleet, however, makes $21.25 million this year, so even the NBA's Cuban sandwich would set him back a paltry two percent of his annual salary.

The problem for the league is how to make the fine an effective deterrent, and that ship long ago sailed. Barring a suspension that nobody believes is either likely or warranted, there really isn't a number he can reasonably reach that will bother VanVleet or anyone else at his pay grade. The fine that will be leveled might wound someone with Precious Achiuwa's take home, but not someone who has the gravitas to unload on a specific official and claiming actual animus that can be quantified if not necessarily verified.

In other words, VanVleet got a relatively free swing last night and took it. Now we'll see how much Silver likes to swing back, if only to provide a better answer to the question: Just how much does a curse word cost when money is no object?

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