There are virtues to operating a D-League team that extend beyond merely stashing prospects and trying out basketball lifers. The Raptors announced today that Jared Sullinger, their most recent free agent signing, will head to the D-League tonight for a rehab stint with the Raptors 905.
It’s safe to say this season has not gone as planned for Sullinger. He started in the Raptors’ opening pre-season game against the Warriors, had someone step on his foot, and then sat out with pain. As a precautionary measure, the Raptors and Sully decided it best to surgically repair the foot to prevent greater injury. Before he even hit the court for the regular season, Sullinger’s time with the Raptors was off to a rough start.
Unfortunately, while we were excited to see Sully six games ago, it was clear he was not all the way back. In his last two games, against San Antonio and Memphis, both Raptors losses, he shot a combined 0-for-10, and grabbed a total of 5 rebounds in a total of 27 minutes. Coach Dwane Casey opted to sit Sullinger against the Bucks, which owes something to the matchup reality vs. Milwaukee (a team of springy combo forwards), but also suggests Sully needs some time to work the rust off and get comfortable with playing basketball again.
For the Raptors, Sully’s absence continues to be a minor, if unfortunate, setback. Toronto is currently 29-18, but has need of a steady frontcourt player. The team’s current rotation at the 4/5 spots extends three deep before getting into rookie territory. And while the Jonas Valanciunas/Sully pairing feels like it will never work, putting Sullinger in at the 5 with the high-low game of Lucas Nogueira, or the range of Patrick Patterson, sounds promising. And for a team currently 28th in defensive rebounding percentage, Sullinger’s career average of 7.6 rebounds could prove to be a difference maker down the stretch.
Since Sullinger has more than three years of big league experience, the NBA Players Association was required to sign-off on the decision to allow him to play in the D-League for a Raptors 905 tune-up game or two. It’s heartening to see this get approved, and to see Sully’s acceptance of the fact that he needs some time to get his conditioning, timing and comfort level back to where it needs to be. Remember: he too needed to sign-off on the idea. Here’s hoping for the best.