Development even in big losses

What lobsters tell us about the 905's development

Before their re-brand, the Maine Celtics were known as the Red Claws, but lobsters are still aplenty off the coast of Maine.

These brainless crustaceans crave dominance – a concept popularized by a former U of T prof who famously attempted to draw an analogy between their hierarchy and ours … if they do it, it must be “natural” for humans to do it too – and seven Celtics last Wednedsay night had THAT lobster (not THAT dog) in them, scoring in double digits enroute to a 136-95 win.

It was a brutal 41-point loss for the 905. The Maine Celtics embarrassed them in front of fans who came out in droves for Lunar New Year. In fact, the domination was so bad, from start to finish, that head coach Eric Khoury refused to speak to the media post-game. 

The 905 lost the first quarter 43-19, the second 39-33, the third 32-22, and the fourth 22-21.

I can understand why Khoury said ‘Not today!’ – there’s nothing more frustrating than when you’re already frustrated, and someone asks you questions so glaringly obvious, and the answers stare at you right in the face. Why are you so miserable and depressed? Because I’m broke. Why are you so broke? Because I’m miserable. Questions can be deeply enervating after a huge loss.  

But this is what development in the trenches looks like.

I’m sure Khoury was impressed by Myles Burns relentlessly attacking the rim even when the scoreboard told him his efforts were futile. With less than a minute left in the third, Burns scored his sixth point of the game over the outstretched hands of former CEBL player Kylor Kelley, then got a steal, turned it over, grabbed an offensive board, and missed a tip-in.

He finished the game with a game-high seven offensive boards, but missed his tip-ins and missed his four free throws when he got to the charity stripe (in the G, it’s higher stakes – for the first 46 minutes, it’s one free throw for the two- or three-point shot attempted while getting fouled). After the game, he came out to the court, and worked diligently on his free throws and shooting form. Even after missing three triples in the fourth quarter (the defence dared him to shoot a wide-open 3 on his last attempt and he took it), he didn’t lose an ounce of intensity until the buzzer sounded.  

Burns will likely never crack the Raptors roster ever, but all the “unseen hours” isn’t just about him. The 905 will be playing Game 16 of a 34-game regular season tomorrow, but even in big losses like Wednesday’s, they can be crucial development opportunities for Coach Khoury and GM Luke Winn.

Winn described Burns – who was drafted 11th overall in the 2023 G League Draft – as someone who “plays hard all of the time.” Before Winn’s employment with the Raptors, he spent years developing a data-driven eye for talent. He maybe great at identifying diamonds in the rough like Burns, who played in the NAIA before his lone season at Ole Miss, but he’s learning to coalesce a group of basketball talents on the fly.

In Khoury’s second season as head coach, he’s learning to develop relationships with players despite the losses (he’s talked about maturing in the relationship-side of coaching more than the Xs and Os). Case in point: in their last game of 2023, Burns came off the floor after turning the ball over – he hesitated to pull a three, and then the ensuing hesitation caused him to travel. As Burns came off, Khoury gave him the “I see you” clap from the sidelines, praising Burns for his relentless effort.

Such nuances maybe invisible to an impatient mob. But whether by default or design, baptism by fire, even if it’s not always enticing to watch, is how the Raptors as a whole will develop.

It’s rare for an SI writer to learn how to manage a G League team, and for an engineering grad to develop pro coaching skills. Whether any of this materializes into playoff contention or banners down the road is unknown, but if things work out, it’ll be easy to look back on days like this and say, ‘I saw it coming!’ 

It’s not always about aspiring to get to the top of the hierarchy. The willingness to learn on the fly and walk through the valley of death – and remain poised despite the team record or score – can yield better results.

The 905 play the Rio Grande Valley Vipers tomorrow at Paramount Fine Foods Centre at 2 pm.