Raptors fill out coaching staff, make 4 additions official

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The Toronto Raptors have announced four additions to Nick Nurse’s coaching staff, making the hirings of Adrian Griffin, Sergio Scariolo, Nate Bjrokgren, and Phil Handy all official.

Each addition was already reported here (by us or Danny Green), and several of those names were around the Raptors at Las Vegas Summer League, already getting involved with the team. The foursome join Patrick Mutombo, Jim Sann, and Eric Khoury to make a seven-person staff around Nurse, who will be in his first season as an NBA head coach and prioritized diverse experience in filling out the positions left empty by Dwane Casey, Rex Kalamina, and Jama Mahlalela (who replaced Jerry Stackhouse with Raptors 905).

“Adrian, Sergio, Nate and Phil each bring something different to our staff and our team. They have a blend of experiences that will give our team a unique perspective,” Nurse said in a release. “We’ve already had substantive conversations about where Raptors basketball is and where we intend to go, and we can’t wait to get to work in earnest.”

Here is a quick look at what we wrote about each addition at the time of the respective reports.

Adrian Griffin

Griffin comes to the Raptors with a wealth of assistant coaching experience in the NBA, immediately becoming one of the most seasoned voices on the staff. After finishing up a nine-year career as a tough defender in 2008, Griffin immediately went into coaching, joining the Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant. From there, he moved to the Chicago Bulls, where he was let go in a move that was derided as somewhat nonsensical at the time, then the Orlando Magic and, most recently, the Oklahoma City Thunder. In all, he has a decade of NBA experience already at age 43.

In Oklahoma City, Griffin was Billy Donovan’s top lieutenant and de facto defensive coordinator (the Thunder have been above average at that end two years in a row despite middling defensive personnel, at least once Andre Roberson went down), and it would stand to reason that he’ll take a similar post in Toronto. At each stop, he’s been well-regarded by both those around the league and each team’s star players (Jimmy Butler raves about him), earning a reputation as a strong players-coach. That he has experience with USA Basketball only adds to his resume working with All-Stars, which he’ll be doing with the Raptors in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan Kawhi Leonard. Since as far back as 2014, Griffin has been considered a head coach in waiting, and he’s received a couple of interviews, so despite Griffin lacking head coaching experience, this seems like a really solid addition.

Sergio Scariolo

Sergio Scariolo, the head coach of the Spanish national team, is expected to join Nick Nurse’s staff once he can come to an agreement with the Spanish national program, Raptors Republic has learned. Scariolo has made his desire to head to the NBA known to former Raptors forward Jorge Garbajosa, who is the president of the Spanish Basketball Federation, according to multiple Spanish outlets. Scariolo’s latest deal with the program was supposed to make him the head coach through the 2020 Olympics, and the new FIBA qualifying procedures will likely preclude him from doing both jobs on a full-time basis. The meeting is expected to be a formality, according to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, which convinced me to hit publish.

As noted here during Las Vegas Summer League, Scariolo was among a handful of international candidates Nurse spoke with in the last few weeks. That list also included Andrea Trinchieri, who Nurse met with while visiting Jonas Valanciunas overseas and who came to Toronto for an interview. Scariolo was around the Raptors in Vegas both observing and interviewing. (Scariolo and Trinchieri are said to be dramatically different personalities, so both being involved in the process must have been a fun wrinkle.)

In Scariolo, the Raptors add a coach with a wealth of experience. The 57-year-old Italian has been a head coach since 1989 when he got his start in Italy following a handful of years as an assistant. In the time since, he’s coached nine different professional clubs including TAU Ceramica and Real Madrid, winning two Spanish League championships, two Spanish Cups, one Italian League Championship, and Coach of the Year awards in both Italy and Spain.

Most recently, he was the coach of Laboral Kuxta in Spain, but since 2015 he has focused exclusively on the Spanish national program, where he’s serving for the second time. Under Scariolo, Spain won the 2009, 2011, and 2015 EuroBasket tournaments – he is one of only four coaches to win three or more EuroBasket tournaments and the only won since 1995 – earned a bronze in 2017, won silver at the 2012 Olympics, and won bronze in 2016. Spain boasts the world’s No. 2 ranked senior men’s basketball program, behind only the United States, and Scariolo has had his fingerprints all over that success.

It goes without saying, but Scariolo comes with a tremendous reputation in international circles, and his presence in Vegas didn’t go unnoticed. He’s said to be as bright as you’d expect from a Nurse hire and carries himself with a charismatic energy that’s helped foster buy-in at the international level. He’s also run a very fun and dynamic offense with the Spanish national team, utilizing some zone principles, a lot of pick-and-roll iterations, and creative use of bigs in transition. While Nurse figures to run a collaborative bench that doesn’t necessarily shoehorn roles, Scariolo could be tasked with more offensive responsibility opposite Adrian Griffin, who ran the defense in his most recent stops.

Phil Handy

(Danny) Green worked with Handy when Handy was a player development coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He finished there as the director of player development and assistant coach, getting let go at the end of the season and immediately receiving reported interest from a number of teams. A University of Hawaii grad and former WAC Defensive Player of the Year, Handy spent his pro career all over the globe – including under Nurse with Manchester of the BBL and some time in the NBA – and has been in the NBA coaching system since 2011, earning rave reviews for his work in Cleveland in 2015-16.

In total, Handy spent five seasons as a player development and assistant coach with the Cavaliers after two seasons in a similar role for the Los Angeles Lakers. A California native, he also has AAU coaching experience and has helped train numerous NBA players in the offseason, building a strong relationship with a number of All-Stars.

Nate Bjorkgren

Bjorkgren actually finished the 2017-18 season as an advanced scout for the Raptors and had a long-standing relationship with new head coach Nick Nurse. Bjorkgren was an assistant under Nurse with the Iowa Energy of the G League back from 2007-11. Nurse was actually in Bjorkgren’s wedding party, so this friendship goes beyond just coaching.

Prior to landing with the Raptors, Bjorkgren was an assistant with the Phoenix Suns and a head coach with Bakersfield, Iowa, Santa Cruz, and Dakota.

A fellow Iowa native, Bjorkgren has a solid reputation as a player development coach and should fit right in with the Raptors’ development system. He’s been around during recent camps and throughout Las Vegas Summer League, so the transition is already well under way. It’s not immediately clear where on the bench hierarchy he’ll slide with Adrian Griffin added, several holdovers from the back of the bench still around, and another addition or two likely to come.

Mutombo, Sann, and Khoury are all hold-overs from last year’s staff. Mutombo has been with the team since 2016, specializing on the player development side and bringing experience as a college, G League, and NBA assistant, as well as a professional playing background all over the world. Sann has been coaching in the NBA since 2005 and was the lead coach on the Raptors’ player development incubation system last year. Khoury began as an intern several years back and is a sort of extension of the analytics team on the bench while also possessing a mean close-out when helping players work out. In addition to those three, a number of other player development, video, and support staff remain in place from last season. (Note: A few people quickly asked about Jamaal Magloire, but he’s never actually been an assistant coach. His official title is “player development consultant and community ambassador.”)

How, exactly, the hierarchy stacks up on the bench is not immediately clear, though the guess here is that Griffin and Scariolo are the lead assistants and either Bjorkgren or Mutombo fills the third slot on the front of the bench.

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