Late in the 2017-18 season, Lorenzo Brown got the call. He’d barely had a chance to put down the G League Most Valuable Player award he’d been presented before the game when he was told he’d be joining the Toronto Raptors for their playoff run. After bouncing between the Raptors and Raptors 905 all season on a two-way contract, Brown was a full-time NBA player, and he’d appear in four of Toronto’s 10 postseason games.
At the time, it was a nice affirmation of the hard path Brown had taken to that point and the grind he’d consistently put in along the way. A second-round pick in 2013, Brown had played parts of four seasons in the NBA but totalled just 77 games. Meanwhile, he’d spent parts of five seasons with four teams in the G League and spent time in China, all with the aim of getting a foothold in the NBA.
On Friday, the Raptors announced that they have signed Brown to an NBA contract for the 2018-19 season. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, per team policy, though they are largely beside the point – Brown’s MVP season with the 905 has been rewarded not only with that late-season contract conversion and a playoff run with the Raptors, it’s also lead to him getting an NBA contract.
It’s an interesting development from more than just a Raptors 905 perspective. Last year was the first season in which two-way contracts existed, thanks to a new collective bargaining agreement, and in that sense Brown and Malcolm Miller were a part of an experimental class of two-way players. While Miller suffered a dislocated should at Las Vegas Summer League that leaves his 2018-19 situation up in the air for the time being, Brown becomes one of the first two-way players to make good on their opportunity.
Brown, Monte Morris, Antontio Blakeney, and Wade Baldwin have all signed NBA deals this summer with the teams with whom they were on two-ways the year prior, a group that immediately help highlight the value of two-way contracts as a building block for both players and organizations.
This is also a natural step forward for the Raptors, who have gotten the most out of their G League system since installing it ahead of the 2015-16 season. Not only have they won a championship and reached the finals on another occasion, the 905 program has consistently helped players reach the next level. Axel Toupane, Greg Smith, and Edy Tavares all received NBA call-ups to other teams while playing for the 905, and the roster the Raptors have at present following Wednesday’s big trade is loaded with players with G League experience, most of it with Raptors 905:
A good portion of the Raptors’ roster will have G League experience this coming season, which is no surprise as the percentage of players in the league with G League experience nudges closer to 50 percent each year. Brown’s time in the G League has likely come to a close at this point, as the 27-year-old won’t be eligible for assignment without permission from himself and the union, and the Raptors did not make this move for additional 905 depth.
His ascension to the NBA, though, serves as a reminder to keep an eye on the progress of 905 players as the 2018-19 season unfolds. There’s a good chance that the Raptors will once again be assigning players off of their roster with regularity as one of the league’s heaviest users of the assignment system, and both of their two-way contract slots are currently open. They’ll also once again have the option to try to make any players cut in training camp Affiliate Players with the 905, and those slots tend to go to players whose development the organization wants to invest in.
Those tasks will fall to new general manager Chad Sanders and new head coach Jama Mahlalela, both internal hires that further speak to the development program in place within the Raptors organization. Whether it’s Raptors assignees, two-ways, or the next batch of outright 905 players, it seems likely that someone from next year’s roster will be contributing at the NBA level sooner than later, as the Raptors’ plan for competing leans heavily on the 905 as a building tool.
Brown is perhaps the best example of that so far, turning an uncertain opportunity as one of the league’s first two-way players into an MVP season, a conversion to a late-season NBA contract, and now a spot with the Raptors to begin the 2018-19 season.