Guard Victor Oladipo exuded optimism about the Houston Rockets after his franchise debut, presenting quite a contrast to James Harden’s final comments as a member of the franchise.
“I know that better days are ahead for the Houston Rockets, and I’m looking forward to being a part of those special days,” Oladipo said after his 32-point, nine-assist performance in a 125-120 road loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.
It was the second-highest-scoring debut in franchise history, behind Harden’s 37-point performance in the 2012-13 season opener.
Oladipo, a two-time All-Star for the Indiana Pacers whose career was interrupted by a ruptured quadriceps tendon suffered in January 2019, was acquired by the Rockets in last week’s four-team blockbuster trade that sent Harden to the Brooklyn Nets. Harden was aware that a deal was likely near when he declared that the Rockets “just aren’t good enough” and could not be “fixed” in what amounted to a farewell speech after a lopsided loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, his last game in a Rockets uniform.
Oladipo practiced with the Rockets for the first time Sunday and played out of position at point guard against the Bulls because John Wall missed his third consecutive game with a sore knee. Oladipo had four of his seven turnovers in the first quarter, which ended with the Rockets trailing by 12 points.
“It started off a little bit shaky, which is natural, but you could see what we can be with him on the floor,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “We can see that he can be a primary scorer, he can make plays for others, he can really get after it on the defensive end. So, we’re excited about him and the prospects of what he can do and what he can be.”
Oladipo starred the rest of the game, scoring 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting and dishing out all nine of his assists in the final three quarters. Seven of Oladipo’s assists were to center Christian Wood (30 points, 11-of-16 shooting), as they displayed the potential of forming a prolific pick-and-roll partnership.
Oladipo, who is in the final season of his contract, stressed the need for patience as the Rockets form chemistry on the fly. However, he repeatedly emphasized how excited he is about Houston’s potential despite the Rockets’ 4-8 record.
“We’re not trying to be a good team. We’re trying to be a great team,” Oladipo said. “We have the ability to do so. We have the personnel to do so and the coach. Now it’s all about doing it and buying into every day, every possession, and playing every game like it’s our last. That’s this team’s mentality.
“We have to continue to get better, obviously, the chemistry continue to grow, the defense get better. But the mentality can never change, and the approach can never change. That’s what we’re all about, man. We’re going to go out there to play with that chip, that brick, that whatever it is on our back, whatever is the biggest thing you can carry on your back, and go out there and compete for one another. If we do that, I truly believe we can be a very good team.”