Although the Houston Rockets had been long rumored to have interest in a rekindling with franchise icon James Harden, the Rockets' brass passed on an opportunity to add the 2023 assists-leader, opting for former Toronto Raptors All-Star guard Fred VanVleet. The Rockets reportedly changed their tune on the Harden front after the hire of former Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who has made it a point of emphasis to add reinforcements on the defensive end.
Udoka's approach makes sense, as the Rockets ranked 29th in defensive efficiency in each of the last two years. The 29-year-old VanVleet has received votes for the All-Defensive team in four of the last six seasons, so it's not like Udoka's viewpoint of VanVleet as a formidable defender is off-base.
VanVleet is also a vocal leader and has proven capable of both galvanizing the troops and also holding others accountable. These traits surely stood out to Udoka also, considering the transition that he's seeking to help the team make.
Why the Rockets should already be happy about choosing VanVleet over James Harden
The latest viral social media videos that circulated on Independence Day should definitely have the Rockets' brass feeling vindicated about their decision to prioritize the 6'1 VanVleet over the soon-to-be 34-year-old Harden.
The clips show VanVleet and Rockets third-year guard Jalen Green training outdoors in southern California, which should have the Rockets' brass excited for several reasons. For starters, VanVleet's deal isn't even official yet and he's already orchestrating workouts with his soon-to-be teammates.
Many players don't begin to start working out again this early in the offseason, as training camp isn't slated to start until the end of September - essentially three months from now. This is especially the case for newly-signed players, and certainly when the ink isn't even dry on their new deals yet.
The fact that VanVleet is in the lab training with his backcourt teammate says alot about his leadership skills and his overall approach to the game. Interestingly enough, on the same day the videos posted of VanVleet and Green working out together, photos and clips circulated showing the Sixers' Harden in attendance at Michael Rubin's July 4th All-White Linen party.
This isn't to say that Harden doesn't train hard or spend hours in the gym perfecting his craft, because that's been proven time and time again. Furthermore, you don't reach Harden's status and compile his basketball resume without putting in time in the summer.
But it's also known that Harden likes to live large off the court. The fact that VanVleet didn't waste any time getting to work just days after inking a $130 million deal, while also grouping in his teammate speaks volumes and surely has the Rockets' brass believing they made the right decision.