Jama Mahlalela is set to become the third head coach in Raptors 905 history, the Toronto Raptors announced Tuesday.
With Nick Nurse being named the Raptors’ head coach and Jerry Stackhouse departing for the Memphis Grizzlies, a shake-up was bound to take place. Nurse has spoken incredibly highly not only of the experience he gained coaching at the G League level but also of a development system’s importance overall, and he likely worked to sell Mahlalela on this being a good move for both coach and organization. Mahlalela has been methodically working his way to this point for most of his adult life at this point.
“We are very excited to add Jama as our new head coach,” said Raptors 905 general manager, Dan Tolzman. “After proving himself as an assistant on the Raptors staff, having an opportunity to run his own team is a major step in his development as a coach. Jama has played a big part in developing our young Raptors core, and we look forward to him continuing to do so from the Raptors 905 sideline. He is an example of what homegrown talent can achieve in this growing global game.”
“I am excited and grateful for the wonderful opportunity to coach the Raptors 905 team,” said Mahlalela. “I am eager to share my passion for the development of this sport with our young players and hope to use my previous experience as a Raptors assistant coach to reinforce and strengthen the connection between the two programs. My family and I would like to extend our sincere thanks to Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster, Dan Tolzman, Larry Tanenbaum and the entire ownership group.”
After five years starring at UBC – he won a Canada West title and had an award named after him “in recognition of excellence in areas of selfless dedication, leadership, and spirit” – Mahlalela began working for the NBA Cares program out of school and working as an assistant coach at the University of Toronto. I had a chance to meet him in 2008 when he was still a part of that program, and it’s the same enthusiasm and positivity he showed then that has been the trademark of his coaching career. In 2006, he joined the Raptors as a part of their community development team, helping lead clinics and academies around the country while also running international exchange camps between Toronto and his native Swaziland to promote youth engagement and AIDS prevention. In 2009, he was named the director of basketball operations for NBA Asia, overseeing league youth clinics and programs.
Eventually, the Raptors made Mahlalela their director of player personnel, then a player development coach. Last season, he moved to the front row of the bench as Dwane Casey’s de facto No. 3 assistant, a role that includes gameplanning for opponents while also keeping up player development work. Mahlalela has honed a sort of specialty in player development, and he’s been trusted to run the team’s draft and free agent workouts for years, as well as share the Summer League coaching duties the last two years (it stands to reason he’ll coach, or at least co-coach, the Summer League team again here).
Even back before Stackhouse agreed to take the 905 job in 2016-17, Mahlalela seemed like a smart candidate for the position, so him taking the job here is not at all surprising. Nurse and the Raptors are believers that the role is important in a coach’s development – Stackhouse and Jesse Mermuys spoke well of the opportunity, too, before moving further up the NBA bench upon leaving the role – and this will give Mahlalela his first extended experience calling the shots on his own. He would seem a natural fit given the path he’s taken, his time working in player development, and his unrelenting energy and positivity. The program seems to once again be in pretty sound hands, and Stackhouse left behind a few strong assistants like Nathaniel Mitchell and Nicki Gross who could help make the transition seamless if they return.
There are surely more tweaks to the staff to come. Moving Mahlalela to the 905 means Nurse essentially has an empty front row, with his own seat abandoned, too, and Rex Kalamian outbound. Nate Bjorkgren would seem a good bet, but the New Orleans Pelicans were not willing to grant permission for the Raptors to hire Chris Finch, who also seemed a natural fit. Nurse has a wide network of contacts from his time coaching overseas, in the G League, and as an NBA assistant, and he’ll surely be looking to beef up what’s become a somewhat inexperienced staff amid the turnover.