As the buzzer sounded to end Game 7 with Serge Ibaka’s layup rolling out and the Boston Celtics advancing, Nick Nurse’s off-season of ‘what-if’ began.
Almost two weeks later, the Raptors head coach is still playing that game over in his head.
“Who’s to say that foul on Norman Powell at the free-throw line wasn’t an over-the-back on Jayson Tatum and we’re not down there shooting two free throws to tie it up and we’re still playing,” Nurse wondered as the annual coach’s season debrief was conducted yesterday via Zoom call.
“I’ll be completely honest with you, I’ve had a rough coming out of the season,” Nurse said.
On one hand, that can’t be that surprising considering he won a championship in his first year as an NBA head coach. But Nurse remains genuinely pained that the Raptors aren’t still playing.
And that, more than any other reason, is why Raptors fans the world over should be ecstatic that he’ll be back doing that job for years to come after signing a multi-year extension last week that will reportedly pay him $8-million a season.
Listening to Nurse rehash the playoff run and the season as a whole, his determination to win it all again was evident.
The man lives to coach and he has made the decision that there is no place he would rather do it than in Toronto with the Raptors.
“ For me, I love coaching. I love the whole setup here, everything,” he said on Thursday. “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 (this) team so much and we can go out there and give them, on most nights, something to really be proud of; 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 all I want. I want to keep doing it. I want to do it in a place I want to be with some guys I want to coach and with some people I want to work alongside. There’s so much to be thankful for on all fronts to that.”
But the reason you, Joe Public Raptors fan, wants him here is there is no settling when it comes to Nurse. He’s here to win and anything short of that, in his mind, is a lost season.
Not surprisingly, it’s a trait he shares with his team president Masai Ujiri who, one day soon, barring a how-could-you-say-no-to-this-opportunity landing squarely in his lap, will sign his own extension.
It was Ujiri who made this city believe a title was attainable when he dealt away some coveted assets to bring Kawhi Leonard to Toronto.
But that was just the final piece. Ujiri, from the day he took over the GM’s role, has been spreading the we-will-win-here message culminating in that memorable championship parade a year ago June when upwards of two million delirious fans packed the city streets, turning a planned two-hour parade from Exhibition Place to Nathan Phillips Square into a five-hour odyssey.
Nurse had those same expectations this year and will have them again next year and the year after that.
There are challenges ahead. Leonard’s departure after one season in Toronto wasn’t the last one he will face. There’s the distinct possibility that a rival could offer free agent Fred VanVleet the kind of money the Raptors simply cannot match. Couple that with the knowledge that Kyle Lowry, who turns 35 next March, is closer to the end of his career and Nurse could — and we stress could — be looking at a total overhaul of his backcourt in the next few years.
Both of his primary bigs are also questions to return with Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka both about to hit the free agent market.
What no one will have to worry about is who will oversee these or any other potential roster-altering moves as the Raptors franchise leans into its 30s.
Nurse is currently taking some time to decompress after one of the most unscripted seasons in the history of the NBA. But he’s already telling his staff that ,in a couple of weeks, they should be ready to begin their off-season development duties with an eye towards building yet another team he’ll fully expect to take back to the finals.
RAPS COACHES TO GET AFTER U.S. VOTERS IN CANADA
Nick Nurse’s on-court duties may be on hold for the time being but he plans to carry through on some off-court plans to ensure displaced Americans living in Canada do their civic duty and vote.
The push by the NBA head coaching ranks to prioritize voting was their part of the league-wide response to societal change in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis this past spring.
As the head coach of the lone Canadian entry in the league, Nurse and his staff have taken it upon themselves to go after the 650,000 Americans living in Canada, all but 5% who did not cast a ballot in the last election and encourage them to register to vote.
“We are gonna open Scotiabank (Arena) later on next week – don’t have the exact dates, maybe one or two dates next week – for U.S. citizens to come in and register (to vote) and I’ll certainly be a part of that and we’ll get those dates out as soon as we have them,” Nurse said. “That’s very cool on everybody’s part to do that and that’s where we’re pushing our next objective toward Scotiabank later on next week.”
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