Nick Nurse doesn’t know the fate of some of his top players or whether a key assistant or two might be going. There’s no certainty that his bosses will be around for the long term, and it’s anyone’s guess whether or not he’ll coach Canada in an Olympic qualifier, let alone the Tokyo Games.
The Toronto Raptors head coach doesn’t know when his off-season plans can be fully put into place, he’s in the dark as much as anybody about when he might coach an NBA game again, and he’s just come off one of the most emotional seasons of his more than three decades on a basketball bench.
And against all that uncertainty, with all those questions unanswered, with all the weight of a trying season still not fully gone, he’s about done decompressing and ready to get back to work.
“I just literally got off a Zoom call with my staff — it’s not quite time yet, we’re still decompressing — but in a couple weeks, it’s going to be time to get into our off-season development program and start figuring out where our guys are going to be and how we’re going to get to them and make them better,” Nurse said in a wide-ranging half-hour media session Thursday.
But given all he went through this season with the Raptors, dealing with the unknown and rolling with the punches, the 53-year-old should be primed to deal with whatever comes up.
He took a team that suffered no championship hangover to within a last-gasp shot of making it back to the conference final. He managed a roster robbed of two vital championship pieces in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and produced the best winning percentage in franchise history. He navigated through a four-month pandemic-induced hiatus, dealt with the emotional fallout of protests against the murders of young Black women and men and the personal strife it caused the men under his leadership.
And, yeah, he had some moments of second-guessing but also a reflection on his apparent ability to handle almost anything
“I’ll be completely honest with you, I’ve had a rough (time) coming out of the season,” he said. “After every loss, when you’re coaching at this level, there’s always many things you would have done differently … so you’re kind of replaying a lot of those things in your head.
“I think that there was a lot of other issues to take on, it was a different leadership, (different) makeup to the season because of COVID, because of Black Lives Matter, because of the bubble.
“There was all kinds of maybe heavier issues to deal with and you kind of just, again, you got to kind of be ready to shift gears and handle those things and open your heart up a little bit and open your mind up a little bit to be able to accept some of those things are happening and try to open your ears up in the end and listen and communicate with people.”
Being adaptable could be vital, given the changes that may be coming.
Nate Bjorkgren, Nurse’s close friend and an assistant coach colleague for decades, is a finalist for the vacant Indianapolis job, and another assistant, Adrian Griffin, may get interviews for one of the other NBA vacancies.
No one knows if any or all of Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Chris Boucher and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson — all among the top 10 rotation players on the team — will be back as they enter free agency this off-season.
And while it’s expected that general manager Bobby Webster is close to agreeing to a contract extension, he hasn’t yet, and president Masai Ujiri is not under contract past the end of next season.
“We’ve been together, Bobby, Masai and I, for seven years now — only a real close working relationship for two, since I became a head coach — and we feel like a team,” Nurse said. “We feel like a team that leads the organization.
“So, yeah, there’s a little concern. I was never concerned that they were not going to get a deal done for me. I feel the same way about Bobby and the same for Masai. If something changes, we’ll do the best we can.”
Nurse’s biggest concerns may come when he gets back in the gym, working with players and getting ready for the 2020-21 season, which is not likely to begin until January. It’s frustrating dealing with the unknown but necessary. So Nurse and his staff will try to keep things as similar as they can and figure things out when they have to.
“We’ve got some key young players that need to have a great off-season and keep ’er going,” he said. “I know it’s a little weird, a little over the calendar and stuff, but … we love what we’ve been able to do in the off-seasons here for many years and we’ll try to replicate it as best we can.”
Nurse does have the comfort of a new long-term deal of his own, one that pays him a reported $8 million (U.S.) a year that puts him among the top 20 per cent of coaches in the league. The deal was a no-brainer; Nurse has won an NBA championship and a coach of the year award in his first two seasons.
“I love being here and love the job and there’s nothing not to love, man,” he said. “I think it was just pretty much it was time to renew a contract and that’s what we did. It was really, really easy, you know?”
Really, really easy in really, really uncertain times.