The Toronto Raptors have fired head coach Nick Nurse on Friday. Nurse, who coached the Raptors for five seasons, won the championship in the 2018-19 season (his first as a head coach) and followed that up by winning the NBA's Coach of the Year award in 2020. Former Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka is expected to be among the serious candidates to replace Nurse in Toronto, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports.
Nurse compiled a record of 227-163 across his five seasons coaching the Raptors, and reached the playoffs in three of his five seasons at the helm. His only season below .500 with the Raptors came during their COVID-19-impacted season in Tampa, in which they went 27-45 due to the adverse circumstances playing away from home. The Raptors this season spent most of the year below .500 before climbing back up to 41-41 and reaching the Play-In Tournament. However, they lost there to the Chicago Bulls and now Nurse is out in Toronto.
"The decision to make a change like this is never arrived at easily or taken lightly, especially when it comes to a person who has been an integral part of this franchise's most historic accomplishments, and who has been a steady leader through some of our team's most challenging times. As we reflect on Nick's many successes, we thank him and his family, and wish them the best in future," Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in the team statement.
"This is an opportunity for us to reset, to refocus, to put into place the personnel and the players who will help us reach our goal of winning our next championship."
This is far from the first controversial firing decision made by Ujiri. In 2018, he himself fired another Coach of the Year in Dwane Casey after a 59-win season. Those Raptors continued to lose to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs year after year, and Ujiri felt that the team needed a new voice. He landed on Nurse, an assistant under Casey, and that ultimately led the Raptors to their first and only championship.
Nurse is widely regarded as arguably the best tactical coach in basketball. His willingness to change strategies on a dime and try unconventional approaches has helped the Raptors win plenty of games they likely shouldn't have. However, he has proven incredibly willing to criticize players publicly in the past, and his outright refusal to run a deep rotation while relying on his starters to play enormous minutes does tend to take a toll on his teams as seasons progress.
Now Nurse is expected to be a serious candidate to take over the Houston Rockets, according to Wojnarowski. If he does not ultimately land in Houston, it won't take Nurse long to find another opportunity. Championship coaches are exceedingly rare in the NBA, and Nurse, despite his shortcomings, is among the very best in all of basketball.