Oladipo plans to ‘just be myself ’
Newly acquired guard set to make debut in Chicago
There will be much to learn, adjustments Victor Oladipo will need to make to fit with his new team, even decisions to come when he is a free agent next summer. But with Oladipo to make his Rockets debut Monday in Chicago, he already has a clear understanding of his job description.
“Just be myself,” Oladipo said Sunday, a day after the four-team trade that sent James Harden to the Nets was official. “Be the leader, be the great teammate, be the elite player on both ends of the floor that I am, do it at the highest level every single night. And that’s what I’m focused on doing.”
That focus is his approach to many questions that come with the latest and perhaps most extreme change to the Rockets, issues that for him range from being the key piece coming to a team that traded its best player to his future with the Rockets.
“I’m blessed and fortunate to be in Houston,” Oladipo said.
“There’s a reason I’m here. I look forward to seeing what that purpose and reason is. I came here to win. I came here to win a lot at an elite level.
“I’m all about winning and doing whatever it takes … to help my team win. It’s going to be no different here.”
Oladipo, making $21 million in the final season of his four-year contract, will be among the top unrestricted free agents next summer after reportedly turning down a Pacers extension offer. After Rockets general manager Rafael Stone said the rest of the season will allow Oladipo to learn how well he fits in Houston, the eighth-year pro said he is determined to put off any evaluations about his future.
“I think it’s just (about) the small things: if it fits, if things work out, if I’m happy,” Oladipo said. “Essentially, it’s like a business plan. You have to go through every aspect of the business plan, kind of figure out if you want to invest in it.
“For me, I’m just going to go out there, play to the best of my abilities with an open mind and an open heart, do whatever I can to help this team win. And when that time comes after the season … then I’ll reflect.”
He already has experienced part of playing for the Rockets in 2020-21, working at Sunday’s practice out of position at point guard with John Wall to miss a third consecutive game with a sore knee.
Coach Stephen Silas said Eric Gordon and DeMarcus Cousins are probable to play against the Bulls. Sterling Brown is questionable. After the Rockets played in San Antonio on Saturday with just eight players — including three rookies and a player, Rodions Kurucs, added from the Harden trade just an hour before tip — the absences could stall progress in retooling the rotation on the fly.
“It was good to have
some of the guys in (practice),” Silas said. “But a lot of the things we did … was with Victor at the one, and obviously, he’ll be starting at the two. We had to finagle it a little bit. It’s really hard with the guys out.”
Oladipo will start next to Wall, whom he said he had gotten to know well enough in their years in the NBA to consider him like-minded.
“There’s a respect level there,” Oladipo said. “I know his game; he knows my game. We’ve studied each other for a while. I know his mentality. He wants to win. We both have chips on our shoulders, obviously. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the damage we can do out there.”
Other All-Star and AllNBA guards joining the Rockets have said similar things about pairing with Harden. Oladipo won’t get that chance. But it is familiar territory for him, arriving with experience replacing a player who had been viewed as irreplaceable. Oladipo was traded from Oklahoma City to Indiana for Paul George, making him such an expert on that role he could give a virtual Ted Talk on the topic.
“Control what you can control,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. At the end of the day, it’s a business. Certain things in this business are out of your control. You just have to focus on the controllables and stay in the moment. If you continue to do that, you’ll get the best out of yourself every day because you’re not worried about the things that essentially you don’t need to worry about. You’re only focused on the things that are meant to improve you.
“As you continue to do that, you eventually will become your best version of whoever it is or whatever it is you’re trying to become. That’s what I’m focused on doing. Make the most out of every day, stay in the moment, have fun.”
Averaging 20 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.7 steals per game this season, Oladipo, 28, is the only player in the NBA to average 20 points, five rebounds, four assists and 1.9 steals in the past three seasons. He said his goals will not be about his numbers.
“I want to be a part of winning at an elite level,” Oladipo said. “That’s all I wanted to do my whole career. I can’t wait to do that here. My goal for this season is to win and win and win and win some more, exhaust my potential here.”