The big re­veal

Ujiri had no in­ter­est in the tried and tested, he wanted some­thing dif­fer­ent

Toronto Sun - - SPORTS - mgan­ter@postmedia.com @Mike_Gan­ter

Ma­sai Ujiri had op­tions, ob­vi­ously.

There was the tried and true for­mer head coaches out there if he wanted them. But re­cy­cled just doesn’t seem to be Ujiri’s way.

There were the Euro­pean coaches, the flavour of the sea­son if you are go­ing by what Phoenix did bring­ing in Igor Kokoskov and if Ujiri wanted to fol­low that trend he had Et­tore Messina, the long­time best of the Euro­pean league with now five years un­der his belt in the NBA un­der only the best coach in the NBA to­day in Gregg Popovich.

But Ujiri didn’t go for the name, or the flavour of the month or for the sexy pick when it came to fill­ing the shoes of Dwane Casey, a man who guided this team to an im­prove­ment over the pre­vi­ous sea­son all seven years he was here.

Ujiri went with the guy he feels is right to fill those large shoes and in Ujiri’s mind that was a guy who has been here for five years and helped the Rap­tors go from NBA af­ter­thought to re­spected NBA land­ing spot.

The hir­ing of Nick Nurse isn’t go­ing to wow even the in-tune NBA fan who very likely hasn’t heard of Nurse.

Ujiri could have gone another way and likely would have had an eas­ier sell than he does right now with Nurse to a pub­lic that is look­ing for this team to take the next step. Again, that didn’t factor into the equa­tion for Ujiri who was mak­ing his first hire as a head coach and laughed it ac­tu­ally gave him the op­por­tu­nity to hire a “lead­er­ship con­sul­tant coach, know­ing the right ques­tions to ask and how to bring the best out of th­ese peo­ple and what you want.”

All Ujiri wanted was the right guy go­ing for­ward and Nurse was his choice, sim­ple as that.

“In the NBA, we’re a copy cat league,” Ujiri said. “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.”

Nurse has been a head coach far longer than he has served as an as­sis­tant, but at the NBA level he has never been a head coach.

That changed when Ujiri de­cided Nurse was the man he was look­ing to lead his team.

“Try­ing new stuff and be­ing in­no­va­tive is just who Nick is” Ujiri said. “You could tell he’s a tac­ti­cian. He re­ally thinks the game.”

Ujiri, as it al­most al­ways is the case with him, was open, but only to a point on this day.

He was more than happy to dis­cuss his new hire, but as soon as the con­ver­sa­tion turned to what kind of team he would be hand­ing him once free agency and the draft were out of the way, Ujiri got very gen­eral.

“The ros­ter is an in­ter­est­ing topic for ev­ery­body,” Ujiri said. “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 it comes.”

Ujiri was asked if he made this hire with the present in mind or the fu­ture. It’s no se­cret the ros­ter turnover, if it doesn’t come this year is likely go­ing to start in a big way af­ter next sea­son when the core of the team are all go­ing into the final year of their con­tracts and there­fore eas­ier pieces to move.

If the likes of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Serge Ibaka fin­ish out their con­tracts in Toronto the over­haul will hap­pen in two sea­sons.

Either way, it’s com­ing and Ujiri has con­fi­dence Nurse can han­dle both the present ros­ter and what­ever the fu­ture brings.

“He’s a basketball coach,” Ujiri said. “He’s a creative guy and I think what­ever sit­u­a­tions you put him in, he’ll be fine. That was a lit­tle part of our test too (for him dur­ing the in­ter­view). That has to be one of the things you ask about.”

Clearly Nurse passed that por­tion of the test nicely.

But more than any­thing Ujiri sounds like he went look­ing for some­thing away from the norm in coach­ing cir­cles and he’s con­fi­dent he got it in Nurse.

He spoke about be­ing en­am­oured by Nurse as far back as the Bri­tish Basketball League when Ujiri was a player at Derby and Nurse was a player coach at Birm­ing­ham.

Ujiri no­ticed Nurse’s team’s were dif­fer­ent even then.

Through­out the in­ter­view process Nurse proved to Ujiri that he re­mains dif­fer­ent from the rest. That will­ing­ness to be unique, even un­con­ven­tional to get the most out of what­ever ros­ter he is given to work with was enough to con­vince Ujiri that Nurse was the guy he wanted.

“It came down to the wire, but Nick is our head coach,” Ujiri said. “Messina was very good, but Nick is our coach.”

ERNEST DOROSZUK/TORONTO SUN

New Rap­tors coach Nick Nurse (left) and pres­i­dent Ma­sai Ujiri have the tough job of im­prov­ing on a 59-win team.

MIKE GANTER

Rap­tors

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