The Toronto Raptors have fired coach Nick Nurse.
“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,” team president Masai Ujiri said in a statement Friday. “As we reflect on Nick’s many successes, we thank him and his family and wish them the best.
“This is an opportunity for us to reset, refocus, and put into place the personnel and the players who will help us reach our goal of winning our next championship.”
Nurse had been the team’s coach since the 2018-19 season, guiding the team to an NBA title in his first season. He finished 41-41 this season after a 48-34 campaign in 2021-22, but the Raptors went from a playoff team last season to an AT&T Play-In Tournament team this season.
“To watch us play this year was not us,” Ujiri said Friday at his end-of-season news conference. “I did not enjoy watching this team play. That spoke loud and clear to everything that went on this year. It bothered all of us.“It bothered the coach, too. But sometimes we have to make a change, and we have to move forward.”
Overall, Nurse went 277-163 in five seasons with Toronto and was the NBA coach of the year in 2019.
In five seasons (2018-23), Nurse had the best winning percentage in team history (.582), made three playoff appearances, and won two Atlantic Division titles, an Eastern Conference title, and an NBA title.
Last season, Nurse had publicly mused about his future after ten seasons with the team and was linked with other jobs.
Before a March 31 game at Philadelphia, Nurse said he planned to reflect on his future at season’s end. Nurse, who has one year left on his contract, didn’t close any doors when talking to the media late in the season.
“Listen, I love it here, and we’ve built a really strong culture,” Nurse said. “We’ve all got to evaluate how we can get that culture back where we want it.”
Ujiri said Friday that he thought it was “a mistake” for Nurse to make those comments with Toronto still battling for play-in seeding but didn’t factor into the decision to fire him.
In Toronto, guards Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. can opt out of their contracts and choose free agency this offseason. Center Jakob Poeltl, reacquired at the trade deadline, is headed for free agency.
Neither Pascal Siakam nor O.G. Anunoby is signed for the long term, and both could become free agents next summer.
Coming off a 48-win campaign, Toronto hoped to build this season. Instead, the Raptors struggled to keep it together. They finished 41-41, going until January before winning three straight games and never won more than four in a row.
It’s just the second time in 10 seasons the Raptors have missed the playoffs. The other was 2020-21, the “Tampa tank,” as Ujiri once called it. That year, border restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Raptors to relocate to South Florida, where they went 27-45.
Anunoby was at a loss to explain Toronto’s confounding inconsistency this season: “Don’t have a why. Sometimes it just doesn’t go as planned.”
Marc Stein and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski both report former Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka is on the Raptors’ radar as a replacement for Nurse.
The Raptors hope to have a new coach by the NBA draft in June, but Ujiri also said: “I think changes are going to be made on all fronts.”
Per Wojnarowski, Nurse is a prime candidate for the Rockets’ coaching vacancy, which became available when Houston passed on picking up coach Stephen Silas’ option in early April. Nurse’s ties with the Rockets date back to his days as coach of the team’s NBA G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Nurse played at Northern Iowa, then started his coaching career there as an assistant. He became a head coach at Grand View University when he was 23. He coached in Belgium and Britain — winning a pair of British Basketball League titles as a coach in Birmingham in 1996 and London in 2000 — then got a couple of titles in what is now called the G League.
Nurse coached the Valley Vipers from 2011-13, including a G League title in 2012-13. He also won a championship with the Iowa Energy — now known as the Iowa Wolves, the affiliate of the Minnesota Timberwolves — in the 2010-11 season.
The second G League crown got Nurse noticed when the Raptors called and wanted to talk to him about the offense. They hired him as an assistant, and he’d been with Toronto ever since.