Rap­tors don’t look far to find their man as Nurse named head coach

The Beacon Herald - - SPORTS - RYAN WOL­STAT

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.

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