The Toronto Raptors have fired head coach Nick Nurse. In a rather unsurprising move, the team made public what was an expected decision following a dismal 2022-23 season.
“The decision to make a change like this is never arrived at easily or taken lightly, especially when it comes to a person who has been an integral part of this franchise’s most historic accomplishments, and who has been a steady leader through some of our team’s most challenging times,” said Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri. “As we reflect on Nick’s many successes, we thank him and his family, and wish them the best in future.”
Ujiri met with local reporters at OVO Centre – the Raptors’ training facility – less than an hour after the news broke. He was clearly choked up and let his emotions be shown while at the podium speaking about the work of his good friend, Nurse.
“Sometimes we have to make changes and we have to move forward.”
The Raptors went 41-41 on the year and qualified as the ninth seed for the play-in tournament, but dropped their lone game to DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls – Nurse’s last at the helm.
“This is an opportunity for us to reset, to refocus, to put into place the personnel and the players who will help us reach our goal of winning our next championship,” Ujiri said. “…I believe that we’re going to win again in Toronto, and I feel strongly about that, but to watch us play this year was not us. I did not enjoy watching this team play and I think that spoke loud and clear to everything that I think went on this year.”
Nurse, who initially joined Toronto as an assistant coach back in 2013, served under Dwane Casey for five seasons before taking over in June of 2018. He held the title for the five years since. But it was the 2022-23 season when Ujiri became greatly disappointed with his team’s play.
“There was never that full excitement. There was never that full spirit. There was never that feel of togetherness,” Ujiri said of the 2022-23 season. “We all saw it, you all saw it; it’s not something we are making up here. You win two, and all of a sudden it goes the other way.”
The most difficult part in saying goodbye to Nurse, was that his legacy.
One that included the image of the two standing side by side with, arms raised in the air as their team celebrated the 2019 NBA Postseason championship with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in their possession.
“There was nothing contentious, nothing,” Ujiri said. “It was actually an unbelievable thing to go through this process with him with the spirit that he had through this. I commend him for that. I commend (general manager Bobby Webster) for that, too, the whole organization. We’re bonded in something that will never, ever, ever go away.”
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Having won the NBA Championship in his first year in charge, the former G-League champion went on to produce a franchise-best 227-163 record in 390 total games coached. He owns the best winning percentage among all Raptors coaches, while his team made the playoffs three times under his reign. Despite not currently having an NBA job, Nurse will remain as the head coach of the Canadian national team, at least through the 2024 Paris Olympics, when his contract there officially expires. It shouldn’t take long for him to find a new gig within the Association.
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Nurse was named the 2019-20 NBA Coach of the Year.
“With our culture here, I’ll continue to say that it’s very vital for us to have incredible energy that lifts people and gets us to work together,” Ujiri added when speaking about Toronto’s future plans. “We’ve got to build spirit back here, the culture, those things that bring us together to move like we’ve always done here. We need that back. This is very crucial for us.”
The 55-year-old Nurse did have one season and $8 million remaining on his contract, and despite being asked about his possible return for the better half of this season, the veteran coach kept his cards held close as the year wore on.
“The speculation of whether I was going to be back or not that started, I have no idea where that comes from or what I was supposed to do about that,” said Nurse. “I needed to try to get the team or any of the players focused back on the job at hand and try to not have to answer that question every game.”
Ujiri, who was asked about Nurse’s previous seemingly unknown status actually gave his former coach some grace in the way he handled the never-ending inquiry.
“I think I’d lose my mind if I had to talk to you guys every day,” Ujiri laughed.
With a number of coaches in the free agent market, it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn of Nurse’s replacement before the summer months fully kick into gear. That would allow the new boss some time to fully assess his troops and get some offseason work in with his star players.
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