Raptors guard Fred VanVleet is signing with the Houston Rockets, according to a report from ESPN.
VanVleet, who joined the Raptors as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and went on to become an NBA champion and all-star, will leave Toronto after seven seasons after agreeing to a three-year deal worth $130 million (U.S.).
VanVleet’s path has been unorthodox, to say the least, and one of the most unique in NBA history.
Undrafted after four years at Wichita State, the native of Rockford, Ill., was signed as a free agent by the Raptors after playing for their 2016 Summer League team in Las Vegas.
He was seen as an intriguing prospect — then-coach Dwane Casey likened him to Kyle Lowry in VanVleet’s rookie season — but few could have seen his career taking off like it did.
He has been an NBA all-star, was a key component of Toronto’s 2019 championship run (famed broadcaster Hubie Brown gave him an MVP vote after the Raptors beat Golden State) and has become one of the most accomplished players in franchise history.
He’s second in Raptors history in three-point field goals made and attempted, behind Lowry; third in assists behind Lowry and José Calderón; and fourth in steals behind Lowry, Doug Christie and DeMar DeRozan.
VanVleet is also 10th in games played as a Raptor (417, tied with Alvin Williams) and in the top 10 in minutes and overall field goals made and attempted.
He also holds the franchise single-game records for points (54) and assists (20). (The only other player in NBA history to have both marks for the same team is Wilt Chamberlain with Philadelphia.)
“I’ll be able to appreciate this stuff at a later time,” VanVleet said last April after establishing the assist mark. “The further I get away from 54, the more I appreciate it. Maybe it will be the same thing with this. (I’m) just really thankful for my teammates, just the way they were screening and finishing in the paint.”
But more than his statistical impact, VanVleet’s mark on the franchise goes deeper. His self-professed Bet On Yourself philosophy set a standard up and down the roster that said hard work and perseverance was the only ticket to greatness.
It’s a trait team officials saw right from the start.
“I’ve always said this: He’s just got a specialness about him,” former Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of VanVleet. “It’s a special compete level. It’s a special feel for the game. It’s a special toughness.
“It’s some stuff like that that stands out. The first drill goes up (in 2016 training camp) and he goes right underneath Kyle (Lowry) 84 feet (from the hoop). Like, ‘I’ve got to make this team, man.’ So he starts proving it.”
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