Morning Coffee – Fri, Mar 31

Precious having an awful season | Nurse to be replaced by Udoka?

Raptors Insider: Rumours swirl on future of Nick Nurse | The Star

Whatever happens, it hasn’t been decided and won’t be until this season ends. There have been no loud whispers around the team, but everyone knows everything’s on the table when a season ends in disappointment and questions persist.

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That always leads to chatter around the league, and that’s certainly where we are today.

The Nurse questions, which have come from scouts, front-office officials, assistant coaches and people on the periphery of the league, have been presented in two forms.

Is his time here at an end? Should, or would, the Raptors make a change just to infuse the franchise with new energy?

And the other part, the Houston part, just won’t leave the rumour mill.

Nurse certainly has ties there — check out his G League history — and one scenario presented this week would have Gersson Rosas, a former Rockets executive acting as an adviser to the Knicks after leaving Minnesota, returning to Houston and trying to bring Nurse with him.

Meanwhile, Udoka is an interesting name for a variety of obvious reasons. He’s close to Masai Ujiri, he had success in Boston and maybe he’s been away from the game long enough.

Quite aside from whether he’s a good coach or not — and there are mixed opinions on that — the story behind his suspension and ultimate dismissal as Celtics coach is going to be an issue.

I don’t know exactly what happened, you certainly don’t know exactly what happened and if fans trust Ujiri and Bobby Webster to do their due diligence, that would probably be wise.

We are, though, months away from that even being a possibility, and obsessing over it now is a waste of time.

Adrian Griffin should get a look, Earl Watson should get a look and I’d say Sergio Scariolo should get a look. And there will be dozens of others.

If, that is, the job’s open.

And is there any reason it should be?

It’s not like Nurse is solely, or even primarily, responsible for what’s transpired this year.

The roster has been flawed since the first day of training camp, a handful of players did not progress nearly as fast as management wanted and there were critical injuries.

Coaching was just part of it: mixed and matched rotations; leashes that were too short at times, too long at others. The minutia of in-game decisions is often just noise. Every coach makes some decisions that work and some that don’t each night, and they tend to even out between right and wrong in the long run.

And Nurse has certainly had an unprecedented run of success.

An NBA championship in his first season.

NBA Rumors: Former Celtics HC Ime Udoka Could Interest Raptors, Rockets | Bleacher Report

Ime Udoka may not be away from the NBA for more than one season.

Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com reported the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets could be interested in the former Boston Celtics head coach depending on how their respective situations play out.

In January, Shams Charania of The Athletic noted Toronto and head coach Nick Nurse could part ways following the 2022-23 campaign. Bulpett cited a league executive who said Udoka would be a candidate for the Raptors if that were to happen.

What’s more, the same report listed Nurse and Udoka as potential candidates in Houston if the Rockets move on from Stephen Silas.

Silas is just 55-173 as the head coach of the Rockets, which is an ugly record, even if there isn’t much talent to work with on a rebuilding roster. As for Nurse, he led the Raptors to the 2019 championship and is widely considered one of the best coaches in the league.

Yet Toronto has been among the NBA’s most disappointing teams this season at 37-38 and is battling for a spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.

Toronto Raptors’ Achiuwa won’t let struggles consume him | Toronto Sun

Through it all Achiuwa leaned on his family and friends back in New York to keep his spirits up and leaned heavily on Raptors’ player development coach Fab Flourney who is a constant presence in Achiuwa’s life particularly between games whether that’s in the practice facility working tirelessly on his shot or in the film room and even beyond that.

“Everything,” Achiuwa replies simply when asked what Flourney does for him. “I talk to him constantly, get him to go do extra workouts, sit down and watch film. We do almost everything together.”

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Achiuwa has also leaned on the family and friends quite a bit through the season admittedly sending out a few invitations/requests to come up to Toronto and stay with him while he deals with some tough times. Flourney has been with him every step of the way to the point where he’s considered family too by Achiuwa.

Achiuwa has shown the Raptors what he is capable of being in the past but hasn’t been able to do much of that this season. He’s still young, still very strong and very athletic with the kind of quick feet that are rare for big men and allow him to provide the type of defence this team covets.

Achiuwa though has yet to get back to that form that had everyone so excited about him through the latter part of last season.

He’s been in and out of Nurse’s rotation since his return back in January and then missed a few more games in March with a hamstring strain.

Through it all he is a constant presence at the end of every practice working on his shot with Flourney just a few yards from where the Raptors conduct their post-practice interviews.

It’s that work that has kept him from going to those bad places that are always possible when a professional is struggling to regain his form, and everything seems against him.

The focus now is on making the most of what remains of the season and cementing his spot in Nick Nurse’s rotation.

“This year has been a little tougher, being out two months and then coming back and then being hurt again,” he said explaining he ups and downs of the current season. “Just a bunch of (minor and major injury things) and not really catching a good break, you know what I mean? Everything going on around and just trying to control the things I can control.”

Achiuwa is coming off his most impactful game in over a month and a half in the 24-plus minutes he played in the win over his former team in Miami. Now he’s looking to keep that going.

“It’s been a bit of up and down all season, so we’ll just see,” Achiuwa says when asked if he believes he’s back in the rotation to stay. “This last run right here, this last stretch, we’ll see how things go. I’m confident. I’ve always been confident. I put in work in the work every day so that’s where that confidence comes from.”

At just 23 years of age and with all the natural basketball talent he possesses, Achiuwa is going to get every opportunity possible to get back to his previous form.

Raptors hoping to be Embiid’s kryptonite once again — but they aren’t counting on it – Sportsnet

The Sixers ultimately won the two team’s last meeting, 104-101 on December 21st, but Embiid was frustrated by Toronto’s determination to swarm and harass and annoy, led that night by O.G. Anunoby, the powerful Raptors wing who is strong enough to hold his own against the skillful 300-pounder in the point, and quick enough to make life difficult when Embiid faces the basket on the perimeter. He’ll likely be available as help defender Friday night. 

“It seems like, most of the time, they don’t care about winning,” Embiid said of the Raptors’ approach back in December. “They just want to shut down the other star players.”

But as it relates to Embiid it’s getting harder and harder to do. Even in December Embiid finished with 28 points. Over his last five starts against the Raptors, he’s averaging 29.2 points a game on 50 per cent shooting with just 2.6 turnovers. 

Embiid is getting better. Last season – in his second playoff series against Toronto – Embiid averaged 26.2 points a game on 52 per cent shooting. He made just 20 turnovers in the Sixers’ 4-2 series win, compared with the 28 he made in 2019. 

“We’ve thrown a lot of different things at him and they’ve had a chance to look at them and adjust to ‘em,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, whose aggressive schemes have so often given Embiid fits.  So obviously that makes it harder, [the] familiarity, right?”

But it’s also Embiid’s ability to adapt – not to mention that the Raptors are no longer able to roll out Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to make his life difficult. 

This season Embiid is in the midst of the best shooting season of his career, connecting on a career-high 58 per cent of his two-point attempts. Yes, he’s shooting an absurd 80.6 per cent at the rim, but he’s also making 49.5 per cent of his shots from 10-16 feet and 49.1 per cent from 16 feet to the three-point line. For comparison. Former Raptor DeMar DeRozan, recognized as perhaps the best mid-range shooting in the game, is at 50.9 per cent from 10-16 feet and 46.2 per cent on his long twos. 

Put simply, he’s a nightmare. 

“It’s just the duality between him being very physical and athletic and at the same time having really good touch and being a very skillful player,’ said Poeltl, who wasn’t with the Raptors Toronto’s two previous starts against Embiid. “So you got to figure out a way to guard both and it’s going to take a team effort, but I think we’re prepared for it.”

Raptors Play Coy with Game Plan Against 76ers & Joel Embiid – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors News, Analysis and More

The expectation is the Raptors will mix things up with Embiid. The trade deadline addition of Jakob Poeltl gives Toronto a big body it hasn’t really had since Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka left in 2020. Poeltl, therefore, should see plenty of defensive possessions against the fellow 7-footer. But don’t be surprised if O.G. Anunoby finds himself on Embiid as well. Toronto has occasionally opted to go a little undersized against centers to switch more freely in the pick-and-roll.

Figuring out a matchup that can stop Embiid’s post-ups and snuff out his two-man game with Harden won’t be easy.

“If you put a smaller guy on him, he’s gonna take him to a post, if you put a bigger guy on and he’s got to take it to the mid part of the floor, top of the key free throw area,” Nurse said of Embiid.

Having options is going to be key for Toronto because regardless of who starts against Embiid, someone else is going to have to take on the matchup too. The Raptors’ aggressive system tends to lead to foul trouble and Embiid is among the league’s very best when it comes to drawing free throws.

“I always say he’s tough because he’s also good at drawing fouls,” said Poeltl. “Me, as a big, I have to be really careful about finding that balance between being aggressive and at the same time I don’t want to sit down on the bench with three fouls in the first quarter.”

For Poeltl, sometimes that means knowing when to just give up on a play, he said. At some point, it’s just not worth trying to contend a shot if it’s going to cost you a crucial foul and force you onto the bench for extended stretches.

In all likelihood, Toronto isn’t going to see the 76ers again this season following Friday. Philadelphia sits two games back of the Boston Celtics for the second seed in the East and it would require the Raptors to jump the Atlanta Hawks and then win its first play-in game just to earn the seventh seed.

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