Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse won a championship in his first season as an NBA head coach. He won the league Coach of the Year award in his second.
He will enter his third with a contract extension to keep him in Toronto for a long time.
“I don’t know if it’s a load off my mind or anything,” Nurse said Thursday on a conference call to discuss Toronto’s season, his first public comments since the long-term contract extension was agreed to last week. “Obviously, man, I love being here and love the job, and there’s nothing not to love, man. I think it was just pretty much, it was time to renew a contract, and that’s what we did. It was really, really easy, you know?”
Nurse has made a lot of things look easy over his first two seasons as coach of the Raptors. After a lengthy career that saw him spend more than a decade coaching in Europe, several more working in the NBA G League and five seasons as an assistant in Toronto, Nurse took over before the 2018-19 season and led the Raptors to their first championship.
He followed that by guiding Toronto to its best-ever winning percentage during the truncated regular season caused by the coronavirus pandemic — all while dealing with injuries to virtually every member of the Raptors’ core rotation. He was named the Coach of the Year before losing a seven-game series to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
With all that success, it is easy to see why Nurse, who had one year remaining on his contract, would be excited about putting down roots in Toronto for the long term. The Raptors have an All-NBA forward in Pascal Siakam and are slated to have max cap space in 2021, when a star-studded class of free agents — led by two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo — will be on the market.
“For me, I love coaching. I love the whole setup here we got, everything,” Nurse said. “For me, I just want to keep doing it. I want to continue to provide this city and this country with a tremendous amount of energy that they can all get behind and be proud of. It means a lot to me that everybody loves a team so much and we can go out there and give them, on most nights, something to really be proud of and play hard and look like we’re organized and look like we’re playing together and all that stuff. I love that part of it.
“That’s really I want. I want to keep doing it. I want to do it in a place I want to be — and here is where I want to be — and with some guys I want to coach and with some people I want to work alongside.”
Among those people Nurse has grown accustomed to working alongside are team president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster — both of whom, like Nurse, had contracts set to expire next year.
Webster, like Nurse, is expected to get a contract extension done soon, something Ujiri confirmed during his end-of-season news conference last week. Asked about his own future, however, Ujiri demurred, saying it’s something he would not discuss publicly and needed time to think about.
“I love coaching. I love the whole setup here we got, everything. For me, I just want to keep doing it. I want to continue to provide this city and this country with a tremendous amount of energy that they can all get behind and be proud of.”
Raptors coach Nick Nurse
Nurse said he is a little concerned about Ujiri’s future, if only because he enjoys working with both Ujiri and Webster and wants to see that partnership continue.
“Yeah, for sure,” Nurse said when asked if he was concerned about Ujiri’s contract situation. “We’ve been together, Bobby, Masai and I, for seven years now. Only a real close working relationship for two, since I became a head coach, and we feel like a team. We feel like a team that leads the organization. So yeah, there’s a little concern.
“I was never concerned that they were not going to get a deal done for me. I feel the same way about Bobby and the same for Masai. If something changes, we’ll do the best we can. If it changes, it will probably be for a good reason for somebody or a better reason. If not, we’ll just keep working together.”
Someone whom Nurse hopes he won’t be working with is Nate Bjorkgren, his longtime assistant coach in the G League and with the Raptors. Nurse said Bjorkgren had a Zoom interview with the Indiana Pacers for their head-coaching position and is going to interview with the team in person.
“When you’ve got a successful organization, people are going to look at ’em and see if there’s some people they can pick off and go from there,” Nurse said. “So you know my thing is, from a player standpoint and from a staff standpoint, I’m always trying to help everybody reach their ultimate goals and will do everything I can to help those guys.”
Nurse, in addition to his work with the Raptors, also is the coach of Team Canada, which, like the rest of the world, remains in limbo because of the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding next year’s Olympics. Nurse said everything he has heard from Denver Nuggets star Jamal Murray — one of many up-and-coming Canadian talents around the NBA — is that he is going to play in the next round of Olympic qualifying games.
The question for Nurse and the rest of Team Canada’s leadership team — led by former NBA general manager Glen Grunwald and Rowan Barrett, the father of New York Knicks forward RJ Barrett — is when or if those games will take place.
“You’re just trying to stay in the loop with all these guys,” Nurse said, “especially the leaders, Glen and Rowan, and see what the forecast looks like for now. And again, I’m just hoping we can get back to playing normal and getting on a schedule, and I’m hoping there will be a Tokyo and hoping there will be an Olympic qualifier tournament. I’m just hoping that those days are coming for all of us right, so we can get back to normal and moving around again.”