Raptors' front office, coach Nick Nurse "playing chicken": report

Apr 20 2023, 8:01 pm

As of today, Nick Nurse remains the head coach of the Toronto Raptors.

He’s under contract for one more season, and in most other fields of work, paying a reported $8 million salary would be a near guarantee to stick around.

But professional basketball is not most lines of work, and Nurse and the Raptors have entered a complicated entanglement about whether he’ll be coaching the team next season.

For the last few months, there’s been a buzz about what the route for the partnership moving forward will be, with the team falling short of their goals this past season with a 41-41 record, as they missed the playoffs by way of crashing out of the 9-10 play-in game.

Will Nurse quit? Be fired? Find a new job? Or simply ride out the remaining year of his deal, and potentially search for new employment next summer?

Outside of his work with the Raptors, Nurse fits in time as the head coach of the Canadian men’s national team with a hub in Toronto, which is gearing up for a FIBA World Cup event later this year and a potential 2024 Olympics berth in Paris.

Sportsnet’s Michael Grange dove into the topic of Nurse’s future today, speaking to a number of league executives about their expectations for the 2018-2019 NBA champion and 2019-20 NBA coach of the year.

“‘I think they’re playing chicken a little bit,’ said one executive with a finger on the pulse of the league’s coaching market,” Grange wrote in an article today.

Firing Nurse would cost the Raptors a pretty penny: not only would they have to pay out the remainder of his contract, they’d also have to pay his replacement a likely similar figure.

And of course, there would be expectations that the new hire would have to be outperforming Nurse’s expected performance: otherwise, why not just keep the veteran coach around for one last dance, and revisit the job market next summer?

Nurse has always spoken highly in public of his relationship with Raptors president Masai Ujiri and general Bobby Webster, but so would any other professional coach looking to protect their own bacon.

Ujiri and Webster have yet to address the media in a public forum following the season, leading to speculation they’re still making up their mind about how to deal with their own head coach.

“My stance on the relationship with the front office is what I said earlier,” Nurse told reporters at last week’s end-of-season press conference of his own. “Masai [Ujiri] really wants to win, I really want to win… our communication is open… my job is to make the best decisions for this organization, I’ve always believed that from day one.”

Before joining the Raptors in 2013 as an assistant, Nurse worked in 12 different organizations across the US and the UK as either a head or an assistant coach.

“I took an unconventional route to get here… I was always just trying to improve my craft and do better at my job. And that led me to a lot of short stints in a lot of places where I thought that would help me do that, right?” Nurse said in response to a question from Daily Hive about his aspirations as an NBA head coach. “What we want to do is we want to build a culture… we want our organization to have success. That’s what we strive for.”

But Nurse opened the door to even more questions about his future with his response to a pregame question last month while playing on the road against the 76ers.

“I think that 10 years is a good time to sit back and reflect a little bit. I think we’re going to do that all when the season ends,” Nurse told reporters in Philadelphia on March 31. “Even personally I’m gonna take a few weeks to see where I’m at, where my head’s at, to see how the relationship with the organization is and everything. It’s been 10 years for me now. Which is a pretty good run.”

Nurse is among the rumoured candidates for the open Houston Rockets job. But he’d likely have to quit his job with Toronto — unless he’s let go by the Raptors in the coming weeks— to take a job interview, and even then, there are no guarantees Houston would be his final destination.

“He may have lost a little leverage there,” said one of Grange’s sources in relation to Nurse’s chances of landing with the Rockets.

For now, both sides are playing the waiting game. We’ll see if either side balks first.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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