The success of the Toronto Raptors over the last few years has been due, in part, to some of the assistant coaches that Nick Nurse has populated his bench with. Even though he was only in town for one season, Phil Handy made quite the impact on the squad.
The current Los Angeles Lakers assistant made the bold decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to link up with an old friend in Nick Nurse. His ability to work with star players helped the Raptors stay consistent and finally overcome their playoff demons.
Handy finally opened up on what made his sabbatical in Canada so special, heaping praise on the organization, the roster, and the chemistry that ultimately helped them finally get over the hump in the East.
On the “All The Smoke” podcast with former NBA studs Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, Handy opened up about coaching LeBron, his NBA journey, and his time in Toronto. The majority of Raptors talk starts around the one-hour mark of this video.
“Toronto was a dope experience, man,” Handy said. “That’s a dope city.”
Phil Handy loved his time coaching with the Toronto Raptors.
Handy claims that one of the reasons he left Cleveland for Toronto was his connection to Nurse, whom he played for as a member of the Manchester Giants in England during the late 1990s. However, he didn’t start off on the right foot. While the potential of DeMar DeRozan attracted him to this job, he was dealt a bombshell just days after coming up north.
“2 days after a signed my contract and agreed to terms, I woke up…The Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard,” Handy said. “I was like, come on, man.” Handy’s doubts were squashed when he realized Kawhi could help them win a title.
Handy described Leonard’s personality as “not what people think”, calling him a bit of a comedian before mentioning how dedicated he was to getting his work in and linking up with Kobe Bryant.
One story that stands out is Handy claiming after Toronto went down 0-2 to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Conference Finals and Nurse wanted to make some adjustments, Kawhi simply replied “I’m guarding Giannis” and walked out.
Phil Handy talked up Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors fanbase.
Handy was unsure about coaching Lowry at first, considering what a nuisance Handy admitted he was to play against. Once again, Handy’s doubts dissolved when he saw what kind of person Lowry was.
“I hated coaching against [Lowry],” Handy said. “He knows how to mess with the game…Once I got to Toronto and was actually in the gym with him, and saw what his process was about every day, [he’s a] straight pro.” Handy called him an “incredible dude off the court as well.”
Handy said the series against Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, and the Philadelphia 76ers was one of the most taxing series he has ever been a part of, mentioning how tough it was to score with Embiid guarding Pascal Siakam and Butler matching up with Leonard. Ultimate, Kawhi took over down the stretch, and the rest is history.
When asked about what taking down the mighty Warriors and winning a title for the fanbase in Toronto meant to him, Handy made mention of how “crazy and loyal” the fans are in Canada, with the millions that showed up at the celebratory parade taking his breath away.
Handy might not have had the longest tenure in Toronto, but as a member of that 2018-19 team, he is forever royalty.