Fred VanVleet is relishing the fact the Toronto Raptors are being overlooked, just like they were before Kawhi Leonard's arrival, after re-signing with the NBA franchise.
VanVleet will remain in Toronto after the Raptors announced a new multi-year contract on Tuesday, reportedly worth $85million over four years.
The 26-year-old guard has established himself as a key member of the Raptors roster, having helped the team to their first championship in 2019.
Leonard headlined Toronto's success last year before leaving for the Los Angeles Clippers and amid doubts over the Raptors heading into 2020-21, VanVleet is excited.
"I'm excited about what we've got," VanVleet – undrafted out of Wichita State – said during Tuesday's virtual news conference.
"I think we're kind of headed back in the direction of where we were pre-Kawhi, where people are overlooking us again, which is not a bad place to be in.
"We've got a lot of work to do and we've got to get a lot better as individuals, and then we'll go out there and see what we can do. I'm excited. I can't wait to get back to work."
A playoff hero in Toronto's 2019 title run, VanVleet assumed a larger offensive role last season, starting 54 games and averaging career highs with 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game as the Raptors reached the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
VanVleet was averaging under 5.0 points per game as recently as 2016-17. Now, his scoring is up to 17.6 (+14.7). No players in the NBA have had a bigger scoring increase since then, with New Orleans Pelicans star Brandon Ingram (23.8ppg from 9.4ppg – +14.5), Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics (20.3ppg from 6.6ppg – +13.7) and Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie (20.6ppg from 7.3ppg – +13.3) coming closest.
"All of the individual accolades that you could ever think of – though I don't really share those publicly because that's not what I'm into – but I've got a lot on the table that I want to get done," VanVleet said, with the Raptors to begin their season in Tampa, Florida amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"But now I'm just locked in on that next championship. That feeling of winning a championship, it trumps anything I've ever done in my life, in my career. Besides my kids, that's right up there, as far as personal journeys and accomplishments that you can make.
"So trying to chase that next championship, that's what I'm locked in on."