Jock Landale is still processing signing the largest deal of his professional basketball career.
After two volatile seasons in Europe, a prove-it-or-bust year in the NBL, and a pair of up-and-down campaigns in the NBA, Landale finally had the opportunity to experience what it was like to be an immensely coveted free agent.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Landale told ESPN on Monday, a day after agreeing to the new deal. “My phone went bananas… it’s obviously something I’ve been dreaming of doing for a long time: being able to earn my way up to something like that. Now that it’s here, it feels like another day. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing.”
Landale is coming off a season with the Phoenix Suns that had its ebbs and flows, but one that finished on a high. The Australian big man played a pivotal role for the Suns in the Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, with his work rate and complementary skill set to the team’s superstars standing out over the course of the series.
The Suns would be eliminated by the eventual NBA champions but Landale’s postseason showing wasn’t forgotten. He entered free agency with multiple suitors and, while there were more secure options on the table for slightly less annual money, he decided to lean into the offer that was bigger but only had the first season fully guaranteed.
Landale’s road to his first significant NBA free agency deal came with its risks, and he continued the behaviour that got him to this point by taking somewhat of another.
“I felt as though I’d worked my way to when I played and when I played heavy minutes, I always produced,” Landale said. “If I can get the trust of a coach who has the front office behind me, and they’re all supportive of the decision, absolutely I believe I can play to that contract.
“I also feel that, given it’s non-guaranteed, there’s no ability for me to take my foot off the gas, and I feel that’s really important and plays into my character a bit. I’ve still got to earn everything.”
Landale will join a Rockets team that finished 22-60 last season, but is now looking to grow out of its rebuild.
Jalen Green and Alperen Şengün were the Rockets’ two first-round picks in 2021, while there are naturally high hopes for Amen Thompson, whom the team took with the fourth overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Having assembled that crop of talented young players, this offseason seemed to be about putting a proven leader in place — signing a new head coach in Ime Udoka — and adding veterans, which is why the team agreed to several big-money contracts to start free agency.
Fred VanVleet agreed to a three-year, $130 million deal, while Dillon Brooks will join the team on a new four-year, $[US]80 million contract. Landale, 28, is another veteran piece for the Rockets and, while there are leadership roles for the taking, he’s also eyeing an increase in opportunity.
“Obviously Şengün has done a great job at making himself into a hell of a starter in the NBA but, you look at his minutes in comparison to a max player like [Deandre Ayton], and it was just a matter of the minute discrepancy there is big,” Landale said.
“He plays 28-29 minutes a game, so there’s 19-20 minutes a night available. I’m not expecting to walk into that, by any means; when I spoke to Ime, he said you’ve got to come in and earn it, just like everyone else. I think that’s a healthy style of competition. [I’m] definitely looking forward to that opportunity, but the door’s open; I’ve just got to walk through it.”
Landale has been working out in Melbourne over the offseason with former United teammate, David Barlow, ahead of training camp with the Australian Boomers in August, in the lead-up to the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Barlow was teammates with Udoka in 2012 when both played for UCAM Murcia in Spain’s Liga ACB, and the pair are in contact regarding Landale’s offseason regime.
Landale projects to bring a different look to the five-spot in Houston. Şengün is a finesse, crafty big-man who leans on his post creation, while the Melbourne-native plans on continuing his high-energy style of play.
“I believe I’ve found a role that really fits into a mould that any team needs,” Landale said.
“Playing between the gaps, doing all the dirty work; every team needs that. You look at Dillon Brooks, for example. That’s the certified player that he is. He’s someone that comes in and does the dirty work every night and gets the job done at a high level… towards the end of the season, I realised that the easiest way for me to do what I’ve done and produce at the level that I’ve produced is to do the dirty work and play off other peoples’ creation, and not really try and force anything.
“That’ll be the message I try to impart on everyone is: every team needs a guy willing to sacrifice their own numbers and bodies and all of that, to go out there and help the superstars get loose and make their lives easier. That’s where I’m really handy, and figured that out with [Kevin Durant] and [Devin Booker], is they needed someone who was willing to do the dirty work for them. That’s the role I see myself sticking in for a long time, and I’m completely happy with that. I love it.”
Coming off his first taste of NBA postseason action, Landale wants to play a role in pushing the Rockets toward that level of basketball.
“It feels as though we’re at a point now where we have an amazing crop of young talent, we’ve got arguably one of the best head coaches in the entire NBA; now, we need to start producing,” Landale said.
“This is the year we’ll really start to look to produce with a bunch of young talent that’s up and coming. We’ve had these young guys who’ll have been in the league for three-to-five years, and are coming of age, and it starts to become [that] we can’t be the Houston Rockets of last year who didn’t necessarily produce at the level we wanted to.
“Now, we have to start getting in playoff contention, getting in those play-in games, and really starting to compete for those spots, and I think that’s where we’re gonna hopefully be.”
NBA Jock Landale Houston Rockets move hard work only ramps up