Last year, Raptors 905 — the Toronto Raptors NBA D-League affiliate — was a last minute addition to the Toronto sports landscape. In the team’s first season, the big draws for local basketball aficionados were Bruno Caboclo, Sim Bhullar and to an extent Nick Wiggins. Wiggins is the brother of the biggest Canadian NBA superstar, Andrew Wiggins (I debated even writing his name, you really should know by now).
This year, the locals still get smacked with some big time Canadian content. Drake crony and former Baylor sharpshooter, Brady Heslip, as well as another Wiggins — Antwaine.
Sidebar — One more year with a Wiggins on the roster, and it’s going to be assumed it’s a 905 roster prerequisite. Consider a name change if you’re headed to open tryouts.
But this team is all about Jerry Stackhouse. The head coach, in a job he didn’t even want when it first came around.
There were a few other names being floated around for the open position this summer — Toronto Raptors player development and assistant coach Jama Mahlalela. The two standing 905 assistant coaches from the short lived Jesse Mermuys regime, Nathaniel Mitchell and David Gale, were promotions to naturally consider as well.
Read More: NBA D-League team previews
It was some encouragement from former Raptors 905 head coach, Mermuys (now an assistant under Luke Walton in L.A.) that pushed Stackhouse to fully consider the opportunity.
“Jesse was the first one who really called me and said, ‘Stack, you’ve got to do this.’ If you know Jesse, you know (what it’s like) when he says you’ve got to do something. He said, ‘I’m 10, 20 times better than I was before I took this job’,” Stackhouse told The Step Back on Raptors 905 Media Day. “That kind of opened my eyes to it a little bit. And all of a sudden, it just became something where I could really hone my skills, continue to help guys get better, and really be who I am and give them who I am, give them the experiences that I’ve had of being around this game for over 20 years.”
Although this particular job wasn’t in the initial blueprint, Stackhouse has been cultivating his voice and coaching style for much longer than his time on the Toronto bench. It was in Dallas, a time that Stackhouse referred to as ‘the end of his prime’, when he got some exposure to the coaching world.
“As a veteran, as a leader on the team, he (Avery Johnson) would put me in charge of different things. He may say, ‘Stack, go run the film session today,’ just to break the monotony of us listening to him everyday.”
Going over film and pointing out mistakes is one thing but coaching aspirations really took shape when Stack realized the impact he had on the young players in the room. As a vet they listened to him, much like the 905 roster does now. That mentorship is not something that he was afforded as a new face in the league.
Besides a shout out to Vernon Maxwell, Stackhouse was thrust into a ‘I’m looking out for number one’ situation in Philadelphia.
“We had other veterans (besides Maxwell) who were still trying to carve out another year or two in the league who didn’t want help out a young rookie,” Stackhouse said. “I told myself at that point that I would never be that guy. I would always want to help younger guys.”
There is no better opportunity to aid developing basketball players, and truly there are probably few prospects as exciting for these 905’ers than having someone of Stackhouse’s stature in charge. He isn’t looking for the attention that comes with being a NBA All-Star, but he commands it. And his plan isn’t to overshadow his players, but his experience and cache cast a distinct mass.
Under that sits a roster of 12 NBA hopefuls. All ready and willing to execute any and all orders from “the legend” as Toronto native and walk-on, Negus Webster-Chan referred to him. It’s something that all of the players I spoke with echoed, but most comprehensively by one of three returning guys — the NBADL reigning dunk champ, John Jordan.
“Stack’s a players coach,” Jordan said. “He’s been in the league 15+ years. He brings his league experience here. He shows us a lot of things that probably a lot of other coaches wouldn’t be able to show us because they didn’t play in the league.”
Individual success and development are firmly in the crosshairs of Development League GM’s and coaching staff, which can be difficult to wrap your head around sometimes considering, usually, you play to win the game. With Raptors that means every single individual on the roster is important, regardless of what hardwood conjecture may be trying to sell you on.
“I heard, the ball won’t move,” Webster-Chan concedes. “That basically everyone is trying to get their own. That’s the perception that I got from other people that played in the D-League, before I came here.”
To be clear, not his opinion, not his perspective, and not a reality on Raptors 905.
As far as players go, the spotlight is on the NBA assignments — Bruno Caboclo, some Fred VanVleet, and a sprinkle of Delon Wright on rehab assignment. It’s also on affiliate players, that’s Jarrod Uthoff and Yanick Moreira this season, but Stackhouse knows there is room for everyone to make a mark.
“I feel like those first five spots are pretty secure on every team, and then the sixth man, and the next guy off the bench, they know who that is. But from eight to 15, you can find your niche to get in that spot.”
Last year two 905 players signed multiple 10-day contracts and finished the season on NBA rosters. Greg Smith (overseas this year), and Axel Toupane (returns to the 905 this season). Neither were the focal point of the offense. Neither played more than 30 minutes per game. Neither were penned in as starters during their time with the 905. And I’m sure neither cared, when they cashed their NBA cheques at the bank.
Jerry Stackhouse will do his damnedest to ensure his guys get the chance to hit a payday too, all while realizing a NBA dream.