As of Tuesday morning, the Toronto Raptors were the only team in the NBA without a head coach.
Despite winning 59 regular-season games and entering the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, Toronto let Dwane Casey go in the hopes of bringing in a new voice. Under Casey, the team couldn’t get past LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs despite dominating the regular season.
On Monday, Casey signed with the Detroit Pistons which shifted all of the focus on Toronto. Who would they trust to fill the role?
Despite the fact that whoever succeeds Casey will inherit a talented roster, the job will be incredibly tough. Not only will anything less than 59 wins be considered a less successful campaign than this past season, but the pressure will be on when it comes to getting over the hump in the playoffs, which is not something Casey was able to do.
Rather than selecting someone completely new with no connection to the team whatsoever, the Raptors decided to go with a familiar face.
The Toronto Raptors are hiring assistant Nick Nurse to become the franchise's new head coach, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported on Tuesday afternoon. As of that time, he accepted the job, but was working on the contract details with president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster.
A familiar face
Nurse worked as Casey’s assistant for the last five seasons and was a head coach for six seasons in the G-League before that. The 50-year-old had numerous coaching stops around the league and elsewhere before making it to Toronto.
According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, Nurse is a proponent of a small-ball, three-guard offense. That suits the roster of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and the combination of Delon Wright and Fred Van Vleet, both of whom took major steps forward last season.
But, Nurse’s influence on center Jonas Valanciunas will be something to watch. According to Deveney, he personally oversaw the center's long-range shooting development last season. As a result, he took a career-high number of threes.
“Valanciunas had attempted just four 3-point attempts before last season. But as the Raptors went into a revamp of their offense — one that Nurse helped spearhead, with the approval of Casey — getting Valanciunas to spread his range and find some comfort zones beyond the arc became a priority. He shot 74 3-pointers, and made 30 of them, for 40.5 percent,” Deveney pointed out.
Nurse is fully expected to implement a three-point heavy offense. While this might alienate a player like Valanciunas at times, it will undoubtedly space the floor enough to create driving lanes for the two All-Stars and anyone else on the floor. This type of offense is similar to the one that the Houston Rockets runs under Mike D'Antoni, but might not be as overtly reliant on living beyond the arc.
It will be interesting to see how the team reacts to Nurse’s style of play. Considering the fact that he's familiar with the roster already, it might be easier for the team to adapt than it would be otherwise.