VanVleet talks decision to leave Raptors: ‘Those bonds will never go away’

Houston Rockets guard Fred VanVleet discusses his decision to leave the Toronto Raptors in free agency and what the most difficult call to make was during his departure. Courtesy: KBME Houston

When starting point guard Fred VanVleet chose to sign a three-year, $130-million deal with the Houston Rockets in June, it was yet another sign of a changing-of-the-guard with the Toronto Raptors.

Of that 2018-19 NBA Championship-winning roster, just three players remain in Toronto: OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher and Pascal Siakam. If you ask VanVleet, though, it doesn’t particularly matter where everyone ended up — the championship bond that roster shares will last a lifetime.

“Those guys are family,” the 29-year-old VanVleet told KMBE Houston during Rockets’ training camp. “Those relationships will be life-long.”

VanVleet had spent his entire career with the Raptors, joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of Wichita State and working his way through the organization, eventually becoming one of the teams’ de facto leaders.

Though posting career-high statistics in 2021-22 with the Raptors, which awarded him his first All-Star appearance, he contends that there was something special about that championship-winning team.

“When you win a chip with anybody, especially with that team and those people that were around for those years, those bonds will never go away.”

Those bonds were such that the decision to leave was not an easy one for VanVleet.

“I was a little upside-down, just because of so much emotion. You know, I play with my heart and I love hard, and just how committed I was to being a Raptor, the pride I took in winning a championship, being there and playing for that organization,” VanVleet said. “Definitely a tough decision to make to leave that.”

Asked who the toughest call to make was after the decision, VanVleet smiled and said, “probably Masai (Ujiri), having to make that call and have that conversation.”

The mantra for VanVleet has always been ‘bet on yourself’ and so he did, heading to a young, rebuilding team in the Rockets after seven seasons with the Raptors, but not before a spirited good-bye to the fans in Toronto.

“Words can’t do justice to how thankful I am to the city that watched me grow from a young kid praying for a chance to a NBA CHAMPION, all-star, and a father of 3!” VanVleet wrote on Instagram.

“I am forever indebted to the franchise that gave me a shot when no one else would. We built things together that can never be broken, and accomplished things that will stand forever. I went from the fans not knowing who I was, to fan favorite, to most hated and I’m thankful for every second of it.

“To the city, franchise, and country that watched me grow every step of the way – THANK YOU.”

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