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Raptors assign Jared Sullinger to D-League

This is a fun move, albeit a little surprising.

The Toronto Raptors are assigning Jared Sullinger to Raptors 905 of the D-League, Raptors Republic learned Saturday. (It was later confirmed by the team.)


It’s an intriguing use of their D-League affiliate, and while it’s a logical one from a sheer rehabilitation standpoint, it’s made more complicated by the NBA’s rules about assignments. Not only did Sullinger have to approve his assignment, but the NBPA had to give it the OK as well because he has more than three years in the league, which is why the move was announced so close to game-time. That Sullinger was willing to go here in his fifth NBA season says a lot about his desire to get back into playing condition, and he was quite open with Raptors Republic after Tuesday’s loss about his frustration in his own play.

“I gotta figure this thing out quick, or else I need to sit down, period,” he said. “It’s tough. Half the time I’m lost out there, honestly. I’m playing at a pace where I need to slow down, as you can see. Two airballs. Can’t make a shot to save my life right now. I just gotta slow down. Hopefully this iPad and a lot of tape will help me out.”

The iPad may be helping, and all accounts are that Sullinger was active in trying to learn the team’s plays and vocabulary during his time on the shelf, but there’s only so much a player can do without game action. The Raptors have been run off the floor to the tune of 21.3 points per-100 possessions in 70 minutes with their top free-agent acquisition on the floor, and Sullinger’s shot just 8-of-31 overall and 2-of-11 on threes.

His play resulted in him drawing a DNP-CD on Friday, something head coach Dwane Casey called a “rotation thing,” not part of his recovery plan. Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira both played varying degrees of well and the Milwaukee Bucks opted to downsize frequently, so there wasn’t a natural place to fit Sullinger in, and he fell behind Pascal Siakam in the rotation for the night.

Through five appearances, Sullinger’s looked about how you’d expect after months of inactivity due to foot surgery. He’s clearly not in the shape he was in during training camp, and it’s going to take him some time to round into form and gain a familiarity with his teammates and the system. The 905 assignment, which is only expected to last for Saturday’s game, presents an opportunity for him to get serious court time in a lower-pressure environment, and he should be able to command as many touches as he needs to get his feel back. The two teams have small system differences based on personnel, and Sullinger trying to learn his marks at two different positions isn’t the easiest of tasks, but there’s no way a game with the 905 won’t help.

This shouldn’t be looked at as a demotion, but another piece of his recovery process. Getting up to speed at the NBA level on a 50-plus-win team is difficult for both sides, and there’s only so much Sullinger could have done will sidelined (to what degree he maximized that is something we can’t know and isn’t really worth fretting about, since he is where he is). It’s also worth noting that some didn’t expect Sullinger back until the All-Star break, and while that was never official, any acclimation time he’s getting right now is still a lot better than him having been out even longer. The injury recovery process can be a frustrating one, and patience is important.

From an organizational perspective, this is a smart use of the D-League, one that the Raptors haven’t had to leverage much yet. The NBA is not MLB, but it can begin to borrow some of MLB’s player rehabilitation practices as the league gets closer to a one-for-one affiliate system. Sullinger is not the first veteran to accept an assignment – Jerryd Bayless and Brandon Jennings have done so as well – but it’s still somewhat rare, and I’m not sure anyone’s ever accepted an assignment after already returning at the NBA level. The Raptors, and Sullinger in particular, deserve credit for going outside of the established box here.

The 905 play at 7:30 at Hershey Centre, and you can use code REPUBLIC905 to get a few bucks off tickets if you feel like heading down on short notice. Failing that, you can watch along on Facebook Live.