Ashton Hagans and Breein Tyree, both guard players, were hurt. Another two guards would be arriving late due to their COVID vaccination status and needing to be 14 days removed from their second vaccine. Training camp isn’t waiting for anyone. While these circumstances are unique, it still presented a G League challenge as vintage as any: how do you respond on the fly?
GM Chad Sanders and the entire think tank felt comfortable enough about the players who would be returning and those selected from the open tryout, as well as Exhibit 10 contracts, to take a bit of a gamble. Understanding both the needs of the team and who’s available in the draft, the Raptors 905 traded their seventh overall pick in the G League draft for a second round pick and a future first round pick, taking the best talent available at selections 33, 43 and 65 in this year’s draft.
“Relying on good people who are quick to find solutions,” head coach Patrick Mutombo identified as the key to the 905’s adaptability. “One of our core values is resourcefulness and just knowing that hardship will come, obstacles will come, we don’t mind ‘em. We problem solve and we find a way because nobody’s gonna feel sorry for us.”
The 905 will open their season on Nov. 11 against the Westchester Knicks, returning to Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga for the first time since Mar. 11, 2020 and there is excitement to re-engage with the local community after a year away. There was already a coaching clinic that took place prior to training camp and the hope is to create more events outside of the actual games that involve the community. Although the team is 100 percent vaccinated, travel and regular testing means that they will have to be more careful than usual. Development at the G League level has become an established competitive advantage for the Raptors over the years and the synergy of being a short drive away from the parent club has been missed.
The first game will also be their debut in the inaugural Showcase Cup that features 14 games culminating in the G League Winter Showcase from Dec. 19-22 with a 36-game regular season to follow. While this unique dynamic gives teams an additional incentive to play for, the 905 philosophy throughout will be the same.
“We try to teach winning,” Sanders said. “You could easily plan for the second half of the season with the two guys returning from injury who will probably help us but that doesn’t provide us any kind of excuse to not try and compete for the Showcase and go after that Grand Prize they’re offering to the top two teams. We’re here to win, we care about winning, we want to breed winning players.”
Featured on the roster are three returning players in Jawun Evans, Kevon Harris, and Breein Tyree. David Johnson — the 47th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft — and Justin Champagnie are this year’s Two-Way players while Alex Antetokounmpo, Ashton Hagans, Josh Hall, and Reggie Perry are NBA affiliates. Over the course of the season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dalano Banton and Malachi Flynn play their part as well. Players coming and going are the norm at the G League level, and the revolving door of players can be a challenge for any coach. Mutombo’s solution is simple, to stay true to himself.
Mutombo is in this to see everyone including himself take the next step in their respective careers. A player may only work with him for a matter of months, but Mutombo’s approach is to build relationships that go well beyond the player-coach timeline. He still regularly texts those who have moved on and can feel the affection when he does see them. The priority is to help everyone who crosses his path to get to a place they couldn’t by themselves. He knows that hardships, arguments and moments of truth are part and parcel of life as a head coach. It’s his authenticity, though, that helps players understand that ultimately everything being done is in the best interests of the team.
“Nothing of significance is achieved by being chill and comfortable,” Mutombo said. “We are in the G League because we have work to do, we all need to grow starting with me. We don’t have the luxury to be casual about stuff, we don’t have the luxury to have bad practices, to be mediocre. We don’t have the luxury to have a mindset that tolerates anything less than our best.”
One practice at a time, one game at a time, one day at a time, the 905 will look to get better. Patience will be reserved for those who show a sense of urgency, and this program is proven in guiding the ones who do to the next level. The more things change around the 905, the more their core beliefs carry them through.