Next, Nurse! Do The Raptors Have Yet Another COTY Candidate?
Courtesy of Sports Illustrated
As you might have heard by now, the 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year award was given to former Raptors’ skipper and current Pistons’ head coach Dwane Casey. Despite leading Toronto to a franchise-best 59 wins over the course of the regular season, he was fired rather unceremoniously after being swept 4-0 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by LeBron’s Cavaliers.
Make no mistake – the Toronto Raptors had a good head coach in Dwane Casey. They simply decided good wasn’t good enough, and supplanted their award-winning employee with one of his own assistants, in the pursuit of smashing the franchise’s postseason glass ceiling.
The new guy has all of the makings of a great coach.
Nick Nurse, 51, has coached 15 teams in 5 countries, spanning the globe. He has won at every level; the NBA is simply his next (and, hopefully, final) step. Having guided the Raptors to a 35-13 record, and a top-8 ranking in both Offensive and Defensive Rating, Nurse is primed to steer the franchise through an era of unparalleled success. Should the Raptors emerge from the top-heavy Eastern Conference and make their franchise-first NBA Finals appearance, Nick Nurse will rightfully be showered with praise by the #WeTheNorth faithful.
But will he, in a fascinating twist of fate, receive the very same regular season honor given to his predecessor?
After all, Nurse has long been the engineer behind the Raptors’ offensive transformation, and he has thus far admirably persisted against the injury bug threatening his contending roster. He has reconciled the fit of new summer arrivals Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard while rapidly developing Pascal Siakam. He has re-organized Lowry’s role within a passing-heavy offense while simultaneously revitalizing Serge Ibaka. The man has been busy. Expectations surrounding the franchise have never been higher.
A COTY ending to a successful first season at the helm of an NBA franchise would generate rabid discussion as to Nurse’s standing in coaching circles league-wide; while undoubtedly not starting off as impossibly impressive as Steve Kerr in his first coaching season (which ended in 67 regular season wins, a 16-5 playoff record and a Warrior’s championship win), Nurse would have to be regarded as a game-changing play-caller.
The Raptors decision to terminate their relationship with Casey would gain far more retrospective approval, and the caliber of their front office would be rated at an all-time high – after all, gutsy personnel moves with big payouts are the homeruns of the sports management world.
The race for this year’s Coach of the Year award, however, is crowded.
With 2014-15 COTY winner Mike Budenholzer at Milwaukee’s controls, the Bucks have been elevated to the tier occupied by the NBA’s elite. Mike Malone has masterfully managed the Nugget’s first-half injuries, and has Denver primed to participate in the West playoffs for the first time during his tenure. Gregg Popovich is a three-time COTY winner, and cannot be discounted in a season where his Spurs are making a strong playoff-push, while simultaneously toeing the line between rebuilding and reloading. Nate McMillan has navigated Victor Oladipo’s inconsistent early-season form to guide the Indiana Pacers to the Association’s fourth-best Average Point Differential.
No coach has ever won consecutive Coach of the Year awards. By a similar token, no NBA franchise has ever retained the trophy on its premises in consecutive seasons.
The Raptors might make history by becoming the first team to do so, with Nurse primed to succeed (and eventually surpass) Casey, keeping the award north of the border for yet another season.