LAS VEGAS - Fred VanVleet, fresh off signing his three-year, $130 million deal with the Houston Rockets on Friday, reminisced about beginning his NBA career as an undrafted rookie who was a backup on the Toronto Raptors' summer league team.
Seven years, one NBA championship and an All-Star appearance later, the Rockets recruited the 29-year-old VanVleet to be the leader of a young team determined to move into the next phase of the rebuild after drafting in the top four the last three years. Houston made sure it got its man by putting a maximum contract on the table.
"They don't want me to be anybody but myself," said VanVleet, whose deal has a team option for the final season. "And I know people are crazy about the number, but the league is growing every year and that number won't be that number in a few years. So I know it's a shock factor with the narrative that I have around me as an undrafted guy, but I'm going to work every day to make sure I prove every penny."
VanVleet anticipates being an extension of new Rockets head coach Ime Udoka. VanVleet worked out with shooting guard Jalen Green, the 21-year-old who led the Rockets with 22.1 points per game last season, in Los Angeles this week. VanVleet sat courtside during the Rockets' 100-99 win over the Portland Trail Blazers in the Las Vegas Summer League. That game featured impressive performances by Houston's high lottery picks from the last two drafts. Rookie guard Amen Thompson had 16 points, 5 assists, 4 blocks and 3 steals before exiting with a sprained ankle. Second-year forward Jabari Smith Jr. capped a 33-point, 7-rebound outing by hitting a game-winning, buzzer-beating 3.
VanVleet looks forward to assisting in the Rockets' promising young players' development as Houston attempts to be competitive again after three losing seasons.
"I think just coming in and setting the tone and just bringing a professional approach from day one, I think it's going to be a whole total new feel with what they've had between myself and Ime and just some of the other veterans that we've added," VanVleet said, referring to fellow free agent additions Dillon Brooks and Jeff Green. "The young guys have a lot of talent, and we just got to kind of mesh it and mold it the best we can to be able to build a winner."
VanVleet, who averaged 19.3 points and 7.2 assists per game for Toronto last season, said he felt like a "fresh start" was needed after spending his entire career with the Raptors.
"I owed my whole NBA career to them, but I think it was just time for a change of scenery," VanVleet said. "I'm just really excited about being with a new group and trying to lead these guys the best I can."