FOR­WARD THINKER

Ujiri likes the thought of Nurse’s in­no­va­tive basketball mind lead­ing the Rap­tors

Toronto Sun - - SPORTS - rwol­stat@postmedia.com @wol­stat­sun

The buzzword on Day 1 of the Nick Nurse Rap­tors era was in­no­va­tion.

Toronto’s of­fence fi­nally mod­ern­ized in 2017-18 and that was a key rea­son why the club set a fran­chise record for vic­to­ries and paced the East in the reg­u­lar sea­son, but to take the next steps into real rel­e­vance that ev­ery­body as­so­ci­ated with the fran­chise de­sires, living in the present won’t be enough. Bold, for­ward think­ing is re­quired. At least that’s what Ma­sai Ujiri and Nurse be­lieve.

“His process, just think­ing the game dif­fer­ently, try­ing new stuff and be­ing in­no­va­tive is just who Nick is,” Ujiri said af­ter in­tro­duc­ing Nurse as the club’s ninth head coach at the ACC on Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

“In the NBA, we’re a copy­cat league. That’s what we are. We copy ev­ery­thing that ev­ery­body else is do­ing. I’d love not to be that and go dif­fer­ent ways, whether they are new, what­ever they are. Some­times they might fail, but what’s the next best thing?” Ujiri pointed specif­i­cally to some out-of-the-box, tri­a­land-er­ror type of ex­per­i­ments com­ing Toronto’s way, first at sum­mer league in Las Vegas and then at train­ing camp. Nurse did a lot of that when he helmed the Rio Grande Vipers of the then NBA De­vel­op­ment League as part of the ahead-of-the-curve Hous­ton Rock­ets or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“I think if you’re go­ing to be a lit­tle bit (creative) or risk­tak­ing, some­times you’re go­ing to be wrong and it’s go­ing to look bad,” Nurse said. “I un­der­stand that. That’s one of the things I learned … (the

Rock­ets) were en­cour­ag­ing me all the time, ‘do this, try this, if it doesn’t work, throw it out, if it works, keep it.’ I’m not say­ing it’s a hun­dred things a game but there are some things, some ideas that I have that I want to try and do and we’ve got to try them, If they don’t work, I’ll stand in front of you guys, take the heat. “I’ve al­ready talked to some play­ers about be­ing more open-minded about things we want to do and we’ll go from there.”

The ob­vi­ous fol­low-up there is can the ex­ist­ing play­ers do what Nurse, Ujiri and Bobby Web­ster, in par­tic­u­lar, will want them to do. The lim­i­ta­tions of DeMar DeRozan (rarely a three-point threat, miles below aver­age de­fen­sively) and Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas (slow-footed, not a quick de­ci­sion maker or a tra­di­tional de­fen­sive an­chor) have been well doc­u­mented. Nurse, like pre­de­ces­sor Dwane Casey, will work with what he has and try to get the most out of his play­ers. He just ex­pects to take some new ap­proaches in get­ting there.

Of course, the team might look a lot dif­fer­ent in Oc­to­ber than it does on Day 1.

“The ros­ter is an in­ter­est­ing topic for ev­ery­body,” Ujiri said when this cor­ner asked him just how in­no­va­tive the Rap­tors can be, given their pair of throwback lynch­pins (Kyle Lowry is a dif­fer­ent story, he’d thrive in any sys­tem).

“Do we think it’s a per­fect ros­ter? No. We have work to do and we be­lieve that. But as we all know, things just don’t hap­pen overnight in the NBA. It’s not the eas­i­est thing to do. It takes a part­ner to do th­ese things if you want to make trades. We are open, we’re go­ing to be open go­ing into the draft. We’ll see when (some sort of move) comes,” Ujiri said.

It’s very rare for a coach — par­tic­u­larly a first-timer like Nurse — to take over a team as tal­ented and in the midst of as suc­cess­ful a run as th­ese Rap­tors. With the right tweaks, even if some are a bit un­ortho­dox, he be­lieves they will con­tinue to build on the past ac­com­plish­ments.

“I think we’re re­ally close … We’re ev­ery bit as good as (In­di­ana and Bos­ton, who both pushed LeBron James and Cleve­land far harder than the Rap­tors did),” Nurse said.

“I think a bounce of the ball here or there, us play­ing a lit­tle bit bet­ter, us coach­ing a lit­tle bit bet­ter and we’re in a dog fight with Cleve­land this year. That’s what we’ve got to do next year. We’ve got to get a lit­tle bit bet­ter, a lit­tle bit tougher, stay together, a lit­tle bit smarter, a lit­tle bit more IQ out there and fight it out harder.”

ERNEST DOROSZUK/TORONTO SUN

Rap­tors’ new head coach Nick Nurse (left) and team pres­i­dent Ma­sai Ujiri are all smiles fol­low­ing an in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence at the Air Canada Cen­tre yes­ter­day. Nurse says he will ex­per­i­ment with some new ideas.

Rap­tors

RYAN WOLSTAT

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