Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 26

Udoka out before he could fail due diligence | Let's all pile on and blame everything on the coaching

Raptors’ Masai Ujiri reluctant to rebuild when he sees so much parity – Sportsnet

There’s a lot to unpack there. But let’s start where Ujiri finished: Agreed, it’s impossible to predict halfway through the first round of the playoffs who is going to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy in mid-June. This is not your 2017 post-season, when the Warriors and Cavaliers went a combined 24-1 on their way to a Finals match-up that could have been safely predicted in training camp that year.

For the moment things are far more unsettled with the No. 1 seed in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks, facing first-round elimination, and the defending champion Golden State Warriors in a fight to make it to the second round. Presumptive MVP Joel Embiid is hurt, and so is two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

All of which is to say, that yes, there is no single juggernaut steamrolling to a title. But with nine and perhaps 11 teams with a reasonable expectation, even now, of advancing to the NBA Finals, another way to look at it is there are more good teams, not more bad ones.

And do the Raptors compare favourably with any of them?

You have to really squint or really be an optimist to see how this group does. The common thread among even the long list of contenders are lineups that feature the best of the best: past, present and future MVPs, and, typically, multiple all-NBA types.

Toronto has some excellent pieces — Pascal Siakam might snag a third-team all-NBA nod, Fred VanVleet has been an all-star; Scottie Barnes might be one day, and O.G. Anunoby is an all-NBA level defender. But do any of them individually raise the group’s ceiling? Or even collectively? Who among that four is scoring 56 points in a comeback win against the Milwaukee Bucks in a playoff game, as Jimmy Butler did for Miami on Monday night? And if they don’t have stars, do the Raptors have that deep core of secondary talent that can lift a team’s floor to the point where they can keep having a chance to get lucky?

I’d listen to arguments, but I’d have a hard time being convinced. Nurse wasn’t and — as we’ve seen — Udoka evidently thought the 22-win Rockets offered a better opportunity.

It might explain why Ujiri was so adamant that ‘culture’ was the missing piece this past season. Whoever he hires to replace Nurse will be expected to fix that element as much as solve whatever scheme issues need to be addressed or figure out how to get more out of whatever roster shows up at training camp.

“We’ve got to build spirit back here, the culture, those things that bring us together to move like we’ve always done here. We need that back,” said Ujiri. “This is very crucial for us. With our culture here, I’ll continue to say that. It’s very vital for us to have incredible energy that lifts people and gets us to work together.”

There’s no question those qualities are essential to any good team and ambitious organization.

Decoding Masai Ujiri: What his words reveal about upcoming Raptors offseason – The Athletic

“Out of all the young players, I think Christian (Koloko) got maybe the most opportunity. … But Malachi (Flynn) and Dalano (Banton) and Ron (Harper Jr.) and Precious (Achiuwa) — all the young players we have, I think one of the things we talked about was maybe utilizing some of these players a little bit more, like giving them room to actually show if they have or if they don’t have (NBA talent). I think we didn’t do so well with that this year. I think that hurt us some in developing our young players.”

What it means: This was a major factor, if not the biggest factor, in Nurse’s firing. Any coach coming in is going to have to commit to playing some of the younger, less proven players, results be damned. When Ujiri took over 10 years ago, he said he wanted to fill the back third of the roster with young, developing players, but it’s clear he doesn’t want them to be ornamental.

Sure, depth plans changed with Otto Porter Jr.’s injury and Thaddeus Young’s diminishing returns, but to Ujiri, the correct option was not relying on the starters as much as possible. I’d also expect the Raptors to find a way to retain some of those young players who struggled to make an impact, like Flynn, Banton and Jeff Dowtin Jr.

Counterpoint: Did you see the Raptors’ lineups any time they went beyond their top six or seven players? Nurse got fired after a 41-41 season, and it is hard to believe a more development-oriented season that produced fewer wins would have changed anything.

Jerry Stackhouse Has Characteristics Nick Nurse Didn’t As Raptors’ Coaching Search Continues – Sports Illustrated Toronto

“Stackhouse is widely known as an elite coach when it comes to X’s and O’s,” said 247Sports’ Vanderbilt reporter Robbie Weinstein. “His offensive sets are among the best in college basketball, and his defensive scheme — while difficult to learn — has produced great results at times as well.”

Like Nurse, Stackhouse is well-attuned to modern basketball analytics and has fully embraced hyper-efficient offense. Only Alabama and Missouri attempted more three-pointers than Vanderbilt this season in the Southeastern Conference and the Commodores ranked among college basketball’s best offenses in terms of shot quality, per

Where Stackhouse differs from Nurse, is his willingness to play his bench. Toronto ranked last in the NBA last season in bench minutes per game, an issue Raptors president and vice-chairman Masai Ujiri noted led to a lack of development within the organization.

Stackhouse’s problem is the opposite.

“Tactically, Stackhouse seems to leave meat on the bone as it relates to his rotations — specifically using too many bench-heavy units in key parts of games,” Weinstein added. “Perhaps that would be less of an issue at the NBA level, where bench players are more polished.”

Then there’s Stackhouse’s hardcore coaching style. While Nurse was often quick to publicly criticize his players, at times there was a sense he wouldn’t coach his players hard enough. That, as Sportsnet’s Michael Grange reported, was occasionally left for Ujiri to do. Stackhouse doesn’t suffer that same issue.

“Stackhouse is difficult to play for. He coaches his players hard,” Weinstein said. “Vanderbilt has lost scores of players to the NCAA transfer portal during his tenure. His intense personality would be an issue in the NBA if he cannot reign it in, but he is also a smart man and likely understands to some extent that he would need to throttle back if he wants to succeed in the pros.

“In terms of development, Vanderbilt’s players generally have improved a lot over multiple years and he has had good results recently considering that the Commodores recruit at a lower level than that of their SEC opponents.”

Udoka hiring in Toronto may have been a pipe dream all along | Toronto Sun

Whether that would have been an issue in the vetting process in Toronto was never realized because Udoka took the job in Houston before an interview here had even been scheduled.

It is known that at least two potential hockey hires on the Leafs’ side of MLSEL were stopped cold when the vetting process uncovered transgressions the organization could not abide by.

An NBA source yesterday suggested Houston’s vetting process, if there was a vetting process, stopped well short of delving into Udoka’s abrupt departure from Boston which explains how Udoka was able to be hired there.

The Toronto Raptors have fired Nick Nurse. Good move or bad? – Raptors HQ

Does the preceding section outweigh the one before it? Nurse has had good seasons and bad seasons, and I think you can safely argue the good outweighs the bad. But the bad has come more recently and the NBA, like all pro sports, is a results-driven, “what have you done for me lately” league.

The real question is whether or not any coach could have gotten better results, and whether or not the team is better off going forward.

Because this is a very flawed roster, and the organization did Nurse a great disservice by not addressing it. Sure, Poeltl is a nice piece, but he cost another draft pick and will have to be re-signed in free agency. Ujiri’s decision to spend his midlevel exception on Otto Porter Jr. last summer, another 6’9” wing, instead of addressing the backup point guard gap, was bizarre at the time and looks even worse in hindsight. And although the staff deserves some blame for not developing players like Dalano Banton and Malachi Flynn, the front office also deserves blame for not bringing in more talented players (and for letting players like Oshae Brissett and Ish Wainwright walk, only for them to flourish elsewhere).

Then add in the fact that Nurse, despite the failures of last season, immediately becomes the hottest candidate on the market — the coach every team with a vacancy wants, and multiple teams without vacancies will surely look it if they don’t love their current coach — has to give one pause. Would this past season have been different if the roster were more balanced? Will next season be the same, despite the coaching change, unless a massive roster overhaul occurs? Will Nurse go on to find success with a different roster?

We also don’t know exactly what the conversations were between Ujiri and Nurse; Nurse did seem checked out at times this past season, never mores than when he openly stated musing about his own future, unprompted, before a game against Philadelphia last month. Maybe Nurse is burned out on this roster or this franchise. 10 years is a long time! He was likely also looking for a contract extension, which Ujiri would certainly be hesitant to give, given recent results.

Without answers to all those questions, it’s difficult to assess at this time whether or not this was the right move.

But my gut tells me it wasn’t. If you fire a good coach and there are no better coaches available to replace him, is it a good move? I don’t think it is. Especially when the roster is as heavily flawed as this one is.

Setting aside whether or not Nurse wanted to be here or insisted on a contract extension, my preference would have been to do a roster overhaul and see what Nurse could do with it. We’ve seen what he can do with a good, balanced roster. And I’m not suggesting that overhaul would be easy (or even entirely possible, given the cap situation) but it seems to me like Nurse is a good asset, too good to let go at this point.

But hey — that’s why I’m not in charge! I hope Nurse lands in a good situation for him, and I hope the Raptors do find themselves a coach who can take the team forward — but whoever comes in next will face similar challenges until the roster can be revamped.

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