Nurse and Griffin are rehired. Where does that leave Toronto?

9 mins read

For a long time, the fruit of Toronto's coaching tree grew in lands far and wide. Two of Nick Nurse's assistants became head coaches in far-flung cities; Chris Finch in Minnesota and Nate Bjorkgren in Indianapolis. Head coaches of the Raptors 905 like Jama Mahlalela received promotions to join other teams -- the Golden State Warriors for Mahlalela. Others, like Jerry Stackhouse, became successful NCAA coaches. Still others became the seeds of coaching talent that helped grow the Canadian Elite Basketball League, including Ryan Schmidt, Charles Kissi, Charles Dube-Brais, Arsalan Jamil, and Will Rooney -- all helping spread basketball across Canada. Adrian Griffin, former lead assistant under Nurse, is the new head coach of the readymade championship contender Milwaukee Bucks.

Some of that former success has turned to ash.

Bjorkgren was run out of town after reports about, among other things, a very concerning dress policy, and very little relationship-building. It perhaps should have been more concerning in hindsight when Nurse and the Raptors welcomed him back with open arms the following season, first as a consultant, then as an assistant coach once again.

And now Nurse is going to be the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. If Toronto has a rival, it is probably the 76ers. Two of Toronto's era-defining shots came against the Sixers -- Vince Carter's miss in 2001 and Kawhi Leonard's make in 2019. Toronto also played its most recent playoff series against the Sixers, losing in six. And now the most successful coach in franchise history, with a championships as well as two of the four best seasons by winning percentage, will be the coach of the Sixers.

Griffin will be the coach of the Bucks. Maybe you don't think the Sixers are Toronto's rival? Milwaukee would be a pretty good alternate suggestion. Toronto has faced the Bucks twice in the playoffs, winning in 2017 and in 2019. Kawhi Leonard's dunk on the Lowry pitchback in transition remains perhaps my personal favourite basketball moment of all time.

Meanwhile, Toronto has almost no one with certainty on the coaching staff. Jim Sann and Rico Hines will reportedly remain on staff -- both are highly respected player development experts. Beyond that there are only questions, rumours, and the demand for patience. There's truly no rush for Toronto. Masai Ujiri set his deadline as the draft for when to get someone hired, and there's no reason why he should move that up. None of the major candidates, outside of Griffin, have been hired elsewhere. There's no reason to rush, and plenty of reason to wait -- to see which other coaches become available.

That's the future though -- the past is finished when it comes to the once-effortless gleam of Toronto's coaching staff.

Toronto's coaching tree isn't so much dead and buried as it is transplanted. The Raptors have spent years graduating coaches to new gigs and spreading the seeds of the tree far and wide. That benefits the team and and the league around it -- giving prestige and soft power to organizations and their employees. But Toronto sees no benefit now. The ground is cleared and ready for future growth. Start again from square one.