With Adrian Wojnarowski tweeting out that the Raptors had selected Nick Nurse as their next head coach yesterday morning, it appears the month-long search for Dwane Casey’s replacement is over, and with the long list of names tied to the position during the time between coaches, it’s certainly understandable that some are skeptical of the selection. After all, with yet another disappointing end to the playoff run, there is a real case for drastic change in the organization, and Dwane Casey was tremendously successful as the Raptors head coach, leaving big shoes to fill for the team.
Despite that though, there are reasons for optimism with Nurse. He has a tremendous reputation as a brilliant offensive mind, and is largely credited with overhauling the offense of the Raptors last season. The modernized offense emphasized more three-point shooting and ball movement, and took advantage of the personnel available to help the team adapt to opposing defenses. DeMar DeRozan had his best season, being used as both an aggressive scorer when the situation called for it, as well as showing an increased ability to get his teammates shots in places where they could succeed.
While there are legitimate reasons to make a case for changes in the team’s coaching strategies, those aren’t systemic changes that should be sought. The team had a top-10 defense and offense, and most of the places to look for improvement are micro changes. There were some rotational issues late in the season, especially with the transitional lineups between the starters and the bench, when the team frequently had pairings of players on the floor who didn’t fit together, and that was magnified in the playoffs. Particularly, playing Jakob Poeltl and Serge Ibaka together, when throughout the season they had struggled, in critical moments, or playing DeMar DeRozan and CJ Miles together when the situation called for more defense on the wings. These are things that are fixable even in the confines of keeping the same larger systems, simply through better management of the rotation.
At the same time, Nurse as the head coach may be an indication that the organization sees the need for improvement within the roster. Bringing in an external coach, there’s the potential that they would want to keep a 59-win roster intact, as they wouldn’t want to be seen as the cause for the team sliding back if they couldn’t find the same success without those players in place. Nurse is already familiar with the team the Raptors have, and can be assumed to be on board with the ways that management wants to adjust the personnel. If the Raptors are looking to overhaul the roster and move in a younger direction, Nurse has already built a relationship with those players and knows what he’d be working with going forward, which can be helpful. Internal promotion isn’t always a case for maintaining the status quo.
Whether or not the roster gets changed, though, this wasn’t a rushed decision. Masai took his time in the search for a new coach, spending nearly a month in the process before naming Nurse as the next head coach. That’s also a reason for optimism, as Nurse was one of the first names mentioned after Casey was fired. That indicates that the team spent that time vetting Nurse, familiarizing themselves with his plans for the team if he got the job, and familiarizing him with their plans for the roster. Since Masai took over running the Raptors, this has been the nature of the organization, to be deliberate and considerate of their options, and this search looks no different.
There are no guarantees with a new coach in any organization, and following up a 59-win season will be a challenge for the Raptors. Still, the careful process to arrive at Nick Nurse as the next head coach of the team indicates that they won’t rush into the next decision, and that’s the one that really indicates the path forward for the team. Nurse’s reputation, where he’s nearly league-wide regarded as one of the best assistants in the game, and the Raptors’ familiarity with him, should help them adjust heading into next season.