Nick Nurse Retires as Toronto Raptors Coach; Ex-Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka is reportedly being targeted as a replacement
The Toronto Raptors fired head coach Nick Nurse on Friday. Nurse, who coached the Raptors for five seasons, won the championship in the 2018-19 season (his first as head coach) and went on to win the 2020 NBA Coach of the Year award. Former Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka is expected to be among the serious candidates to succeed Nurse in Toronto, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.
Nurse posted a 227-163 record in his five seasons as coach of the Raptors and made the playoffs in three of his five seasons at the helm. His only under-.500 season with the Raptors came during their COVID-19-hit Tampa season, where they went 27-45 due to adverse circumstances playing from home. The Raptors spent most of the year under .500 this season before climbing back up to 41-41 and making the play-in tournament. However, they lost there to the Chicago Bulls and now Nurse is out and about in Toronto.
“The decision to make such a change is never made lightly or taken lightly, especially when it comes to an individual who has been an integral part of this franchise’s most historic accomplishments and who has held consistent leadership roles on some of our most challenging teams times. As we reflect on Nick’s many accomplishments, we thank him and his family and wish them well in the future,” Raptors President Masai Ujiri said in the team statement.
“This is an opportunity for us to refocus, refocus and deploy the staff and players who will help us achieve our goal of winning our next championship.”
This is a far cry from Ujiri’s first controversial dismissal decision. In 2018, he fired another coach of the year himself, Dwane Casey, after a 59-win season. Those Raptors were losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs year after year, and Ujiri felt the team needed a new voice. He ended up with Casey’s assistant, Nurse, and that ultimately led the Raptors to their first and only championship.
Nurse is widely regarded as arguably the best tactical coach in basketball. His willingness to change strategies on a dime and try unconventional approaches has helped the Raptors win many games they probably shouldn’t have won. However, he’s proven incredibly willing to publicly criticize players in the past, and his complete refusal to drive a deep rotation while relying on his starters to play tremendous minutes tends to take a toll as the season progresses his teams.
Now Nurse is expected to be a serious contender to take over the Houston Rockets. to Wojnarowski. If he doesn’t end up in Houston, it won’t take Nurse long to find another opportunity. Championship coaches are extremely rare in the NBA, and Nurse, despite his shortcomings, ranks among the best in all of basketball.