Just two weeks after firing Doc Rivers, the Sixers have found their next head coach.
They are hiring former Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, a source confirmed to The Painted Lines on Monday evening. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was first to report the hiring.
Who Is Nick Nurse?
Nurse led the Raptors to their first championship in franchise history in 2019, his first as an NBA head coach. They outlasted the Sixers in a seven-game slugfest in the second round of the playoffs, Kawhi Leonard calling on the basketball gods to help the series’ final shot take four bounces on the rim before dropping at the buzzer to advance Toronto to the Eastern Conference finals. The Raptors trailed the Milwaukee Bucks two games to none in the best-of-seven series before coming back to win four consecutive games to clinch a berth in the NBA finals. The injury bug did infect the Golden State Warriors significantly in the finals, stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both suffering catastrophic leg injuries as the series wore on. Nonetheless, the Raptors prevailed to bring a championship to Toronto.
Leonard departed that offseason, setting an expectation that the Raptors would take a step backwards. But, the opposite happened. Toronto finished as the second seed in the Eastern Conference the next season, losing to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Conference semifinals in the league’s COVID-19 bubble in Orlando, Florida in 2020.
Nurse received the NBA’s Coach of the Year award in 2020 for what Toronto was able to maintain after losing a star of Leonard’s caliber.
The Raptors leaned far more towards mediocrity than greatness between 2021 and the end of Nurse’s tenure. That’s where the debate on Nurse’s status in the NBA coaching hierarchy sits.
On one hand, Leonard shredded everything in his way during that championship run in 2019. You might argue that it wasn’t very difficult to extract good halfcourt offense from that team as the playoffs went on because you liked Toronto’s chances of getting a bucket whenever the ball was in Leonard’s hands.
Nursing the Future
Nurse’s true genius as a tactician becomes foggy beyond that run because his situation in Toronto was a unique one. His team wins a title, the far-and-away best player walks out the door, and the talent just isn’t good enough to withstand what Leonard brought to the table and get back to the height they reached with the star wing. The talent deficits at which his post-Leonard teams operated on offense make it difficult to say with any sort of certainty just how good of a mind he has for that side of the basketball.
On the other hand, the first post-Leonard team overachieved so dramatically because of its defensive. That was Toronto’s identity during the Nurse era. Long, physical, and athletic. The Raptors stayed interesting despite clear offensive shortcomings in the halfcourt because of Nurse’s creativity in shaping their defensive prowess. Beyond that, he and his staff oversaw a player development program that grew Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet into All-Stars.
Time will tell whether Nurse, a likely candidate to throw out a box-and-one defense to try to junk things up for the opposition, will display the degree of imagination that the Sixers need on offense. But, history shows that all he needs is one apex predator to win a championship.
With the league’s new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon, that formula of one superstar, high-level role players, and diamond-in-the-rough development projects may become all the rage.
Nurse might be just what the Sixers need if James Harden departs for Houston this summer.
I provide daily coverage of the Philadelphia 76ers for The Painted Lines / Edge of Philly Sports. As a reporter, I work every day to foster relationships with those around the NBA, shape my analysis of what I see in games, and keep tabs on what’s to come around the league. I also host a Sixers-centric podcast called The Feed To Embiid. Follow me on Twitter, @NBAKrell.