There has been a lot of change for the Toronto Raptors in the last few months. Arguably the biggest change came out the decision to part ways with previous head coach Nick Nurse and enter a new era of team structure and system.
Since the team hired Darko Rajakovic, obviously a lot of the storylines surrounding coaching, integrating the system, and everything else that relates to this transition has come from him. Throughout the summer, Rajakovic worked to hire his coaching staff — which included some familiar faces to Raptors fans, like Jama Mahlalela. Yet, another familiar face to some fans was James Wade.
It was only a few months before he was hired onto the Toronto Raptors coaching staff that Wade was at Scotiabank Arena coaching another big game. When the WNBA held their first game in Canada on May 13th, it was Wade’s Chicago Sky that won over the Minnesota Lynx in front of a packed, 19,000 strong crowd at Scotiabank. After the game Coach Wade, then head coach and general manager for the Sky, jokingly claimed SBA was “his house,” being the first coach to ever win a WNBA game there.
“You remember that?” Wade laughed, when asked if it was nice to be “home” now, “Yeah, I claimed it” he laughs. He said that while he definitely did not expect to be in this position (as a Raptors assistant) while in Canada for the game, the energy Toronto brought that weekend helped influence his decision to accept the job a little.
“I can definitely see WNBA in the future here,” he added about Toronto.
After the tough choice to leave the Chicago Sky in June, who Wade won a championship with in 2021, he’s now ramping up to begin his first season with the Raptors. Luckily, Coach isn’t the only new face around the Raptors this season — along with him, Rajakovic, and most of the coaching staff, there are also quite a few new players.
“I think it gives us a new energy, that’s always exciting. I think that’s always good for players, when they have that new energy,” Wade said, noting the benefits to having so many new faces around. Yet, having to bring so many people up to speed so quickly can also have it’s challenges.
Pat Delany, Jama Mahlalela and James Wade will be the front-of-bench assistants on Darko Rajakovic's Raptors staff this season. Per Darko, Delany is the lead assistant and defensive coordinator, Mahlalela will oversee the offence and Wade will be heavily involved with analytics.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) October 7, 2023
“You know, everybody wants it to work right away, so it’s process. You just have to have a little bit of patience.” He also went on to say that now is the time for trial and error, and for learning — which surely the Raptors have had time for. They’ve only had two preseason games as they head into their third week since training camp started on October 3rd. They’ll head to Wade’s old stomping grounds, Chicago, to play on Tuesday before coming back to Toronto to wrap up the preseason on Friday.
Wade also mentioned another easy thing in getting everyone up to speed on the Raptors’ new system has been the level of basketball IQ that the players, coaches and staff all have. Something that Darko Rajakovic mentioned on media day, when asked about what Wade will bring to the staff, was how much he prioritized international experience in his hiring. Wade himself, along with his experience coaching in the WNBA as a head coach and assistant coach, also worked overseas as a coach in Russia and France.
I asked Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic about his decision to hire James Wade and how his experience in the WNBA will translate to the Raptors. He said he was impressed by Wade's experience both in the WNBA and internationally and is excited to have him on#WNBATwitter #WeTheNorth— chelsea leite (@chelsealeite) October 2, 2023
It seems like the globalization of basketball seems to be a huge talking point these days — only proved by the international talent taking over in the NBA and WNBA right now. There are a ton of benefits of the international game growing in popularity, Wade notes that these international players are getting professional experience way earlier than their North American counterparts. If a player comes into the NBA after playing overseas, they already have those years of basketball IQ built into them.
When asked what he will bring from his time in the WNBA to the Raptors — that European style of play is top of mind. He notes that the WNBA plays more of a European style of basketball than the NBA — with a lot of ball movement, cutting and spacing, less individual play. It makes sense, given a large portion of WNBA players go to play overseas in Europe during the WNBA offseason. That European style of play has highly influenced Toronto’s new offensive system heading into the season.
His experience winning a championship with the Chicago Sky, the franchise’s first, is something a lot of the team in Toronto isn’t familiar with. Of the Raptors 2019 championship team, all who remain now are Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby and Chris Boucher. Obviously winning a championship is at the forefront of every young NBA player’s mind, and Wade wants those young kids to know that they have to appreciate the process.
“It’s a process based business. Appreciate the process, the results will come — but the details aren’t always in the process. Any champion knows that.”
That seems to be the feeling around the Raptors team this year — process and patience. Thinking back to the Chicago Sky’s 2021 Championship run, it was a lot of that. A team that headed into the playoffs as the fifth seed after a season of a few ups and downs — eventually coming to win it all. That was AFTER years of roster building and development.
Seems a little similar to the Raptors journey, and something Wade seems well equipped to help lead the team through. Though coming back to Toronto is somewhat of a “homecoming” for Wade, it’s exciting to see a coach as talented as him here in Toronto long term.