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