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Raptors 905 and their D-League Growing Pains

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After the initial euphoria of having a new franchise in town settles, the Raptors 905 are confronted with the realities of the D-League struggle and life as an expansion team.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We knew this would be a bumpy ride to start out. The Raptors 905 now sit at 5-14, with the second worst win percentage in the entire NBA D-League, leaving behind that somewhat promising 3-6 start as a fading memory.

Being an expansion team in a gruelling league that skips all the glitz and the glamour of the NBA can't be an easy transition for anyone involved--players, coaches or front office. We've given credit where it's due. The Raptors 905 have done a commendable job of being professional in their game experience. There have been no major hitches to speak of, and I for one, find their games to be much more enjoyable than the Raptors' from a strict arena experience perspective. But the product on the floor has been slow to come along, understandably so.

The 905 are the most turnover prone team in the league, and it's been a focal point of Coach Jesse Mermuys' frustration regularly. "We want them to play aggressive basketball and feel confident and try to create something, but part of that is turning the ball over when they're inexperienced, young mistake-prone players," Mermuys said after the 905 coughed up the ball 32 times in a losing effort to the Grand Rapids Drive. The youth theme is another common thread when it comes to the challenges of coaching this particular team.

"We aren't playing as tough as I would like or as physical as I would like. Maybe that’s because we have a lot of young, slender boys out there, which is to be expected. We have to just grind through this. Myself as the head coach, I have to stay positive with these guys because beating them down isn't going to help, and jumping up and down and screaming isn't going to help. Coach Casey always said, 'no one’s coming in to save us, there’s no miracle quick fix. There’s only work.'"

What Jesse Mermuys and his coaching staff are being asked to do this season is implement Masai Ujiri's synchronous vision for this organization. For the sake of developing Bruno Caboclo, Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira, Delon Wright and others for the NBA team, he's matching the D-League team's schemes and style regardless of whether the personnel fit perfectly or not. It's also important to keep in mind that this is Mermuys' first head coaching job at any level, besides some brief stints leading summer league teams.

To his credit, Mermuys is excited about the long term prospects of what this means for the Raptors franchise. On his relationship with the Raptors coaching staff, he said, "We’re so close, that’s the beauty of this position and the beauty of being able to go down from Coach Casey’s staff to here and know his expectations and know what we’re looking to do. When I get back to the NBA at some point, I can use this as a tool for helping build a roster."

"We've done so much to mimic everything the Raptors are doing, which includes defensive covers and offensive plays. To make sure there’s a seamless transition and not a learning curve, we might have overloaded these guys. That’s just something that’s going to take me time to find the line on that."

Developing Bruno, Bebe, Wright, and now also Norman Powell and Anthony Bennett is a primary objective for the staff, but there's certainly some pride involved in getting results that are reflected in the league standings. It's just another balancing act that Coach Mermuys will continue to have to be careful with, especially given how understandably invested he's become in the futures of some of the non-Raptors squad members.

This week, the Raptors 905 will head down to Santa Cruz for the D-League Showcase from January 6 to 10. It'll mark an opportunity for many of the fringe NBA players to make their cases for 10-day NBA contracts. For Coach Mermuys and the Raptors 905, it will hopefully be a bittersweet start to 2016. If wins and good performances start trending in the right direction, the hard work of some of these Raptors 905 players may be rewarded with spots in the NBA.