Why Nick Nurse is coaching for his future with the Raptors

Mar 29 2023, 6:29 pm

The Toronto Raptors have been pretty patient this season, all things considered.

They took a while to make any significant changes to their roster, the most notable of which came with the trade for Jakob Poeltl on February 9.

They took a while to get their offensive mojo going, which mostly coincided with said Poeltl acquisition.

It took a while for some key players — notably, Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes — to really have any sense of consistency this season.

And right now, they’ve been patient when it comes to head coach Nick Nurse, who other organizations may have already parted ways with based on how dire the situation looked earlier this season.

“Just naturally, patience is our thing,” Raptors president Ujiri said at his press conference following the trade deadline. “Hopefully, we can have a little bit of patience.”

Despite some struggles this season, Toronto has worked itself into a near-guaranteed shot at the NBA play-in tournament. Still underperforming their expectations on the season as a whole, Toronto is set to continue on with Nurse through the stretch run of the season.

Whether it’s a one-and-done in the play-in or a shock playoff run, the Raptors have made it clear they’re sticking with Nurse — for now.

Reports surfaced earlier this week that Nurse is being targeted by the Houston Rockets, as per Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com, should that franchise part ways with current coach Stephen Silas.

Of course, there are three moving parts when it comes to this scenario: would the Raptors get rid of him and would the Rockets first fire Silas and then hire Nurse?

Where’d it go wrong?

The 2019-20 NBA Coach of the Year, Nurse was a once near-universally beloved figure in Toronto.

Winning an NBA title in your first season as a head coach tends to give you that reputation.

But Nurse’s rotational choices and offensive sets weren’t exactly the favourite of many Raptors fans earlier this season when the team sat as low as 12th in the Eastern Conference standings. The team has won just one playoff series since their title win (back in 2020) and hasn’t always looked like the most dominant team on the court.

Toronto’s gone 8-15 this season in games by five points or less, which has only added to the frustration around the market throughout many stretches in the schedule.

It’s way easier said than done, but imagining that record the other way around likely shines a much more positive light on Nurse and his methods.

No team relies on their starters more than Nurse, who uses his opening unit an average of 33.4 minutes per game each. The team’s inability to develop a strong bench unit exacerbates many of the team’s issues, with Nurse’s starters increasingly more fatigued as each game and the season wears on.

The Raptors offer Nurse a sense of stability — and vice versa

It goes without saying that keeping Nurse as the Raptors coach is the easiest of options for everyone involved.

But is it the move that offers them the best chance at winning? Well, that’s a tough question for the front office to answer.

First joining the organization as an assistant back in 2013, Nurse has lived in Toronto for a full decade now. He’s got familiarity with his staff and players, raised a family here, and has a side gig as the head coach of the Canadian men’s national team.

And of course, there’s always the contract. According to the Athletic’s Shams Charania, Nurse signed a deal from September 2020 through the 2023-24 season worth $8 million per year.

Getting rid of Nurse would be costly in the physical sense, as well as in the risk management factor. What if the Raptors let Nurse go, and he goes on to find immediate success with another team?

And for Toronto, who’s the replacement? Is it internal? Or is it perhaps a former NBA coach rumoured to return to the team?

The same report that linked Nurse to the Rockets also floated the possibility of former Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka being hired as his replacement. Udoka is currently serving a one-year suspension for an extramarital affair with a member of his staff, which included reports of the woman accusing Udoka ofmaking unwanted comments toward her,” per Charania.

With six games to go, the front office in charge of the 38-38 squad doesn’t have to make these decisions right now. They’re two wins away from clinching a berth in the NBA’s play-in round and who knows what happens after that.

We don’t have many answers right now, but we do have Nurse on an audition for the remainder of the season to see exactly what the future holds for himself and the Raptors.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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