Raptors don’t look far to find their man as Nurse named head coach
The Toronto Raptors didn’t have to go far to find the man who will be the ninth head coach in franchise history.
The team and Nick Nurse are in the process of elevating Nurse from assistant under the deposed Dwane Casey, to the top job, sources confirmed to Postmedia on Tuesday morning after an initial ESPN report that contract details were being ironed out.
Originally hired soon after Masai Ujiri took over as team president and general manager in the summer of 2013 (at the same time former Ujiri right-hand man Jeff Weltman came aboard), Nurse was put in charge of Toronto’s offence, which became one of the best in the NBA through the work of Casey, Nurse and the rest of the staff. The team ranked third in the NBA in offensive efficiency this past season, sixth in 2016-17, fifth the year prior, third in 201415 and ninth in 2013-14. The attack was completely revamped last summer in order to get the ball moving and more three-pointers hoisted in an attempt to modernize. Despite scepticism, the Raptors pulled it off and again scored at will, now doing so more efficiently.
Previously, Steve Kerr tried to add Nurse to his staff when he took over in Golden State a year after Nurse got to Toronto, but the Raptors declined to let him go. When Toronto was swept by Washington a year later, Ujiri purged two members of Casey’s staff, while a third, Jesse Mermuys, was moved to Raptors 905. Only Nurse and Jama Mahlalela were kept on. Clearly Nurse was an Ujiri favourite all along and that never changed, though Ujiri’s first choice was Mike Budenholzer, the ex-Hawks bench boss, who took the Milwaukee job instead. An expanded search followed, with San Antonio assistant Ettore Messina, a European coaching legend, making a particularly strong impression, but in the end, Ujiri and his staff went with the man they know well and have seen up close.
Nurse has long had a backer in Ujiri, who is making his first head coaching hire after inheriting George Karl in Denver and Casey, a Karl protégé, in Toronto. Nurse came to Toronto fresh off of a NBA Development League championship with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and also won a league championship with Iowa, a D-League coach of the year award and nine championships while in Europe. He also coached England’s 2012 Olympic squad. A native of Carroll, Iowa, 50, has long been regarded as one of the NBA assistants most deserving of a top job. An April survey of league executives by Yahoo’s Chris Mannix saw Nurse get the most votes in that regard.
Casey was fired last month and was hired by the Detroit Pistons on Monday. Nurse will be judged by how his teams perform on the court, but he will also be under a bit of a microscope, having replaced a successful, popular fellow hoops lifer who demanded respect and also happened to be his boss.
At first it won’t be easy, but if success follows, the narrative should gradually fade, as long as Ujiri doesn’t return him a nearly identical roster. Blaming Casey alone for another sweep at the hands of LeBron James would not sell well with the public, nor would it be a fair argument. The franchise knows there is further work to be done, that Nurse prefers a quick pace and versatile offensive threats and that future playoff success relies on smart tweaks and upgrades.