If Nick Nurse isn’t the best man possible to shepherd these Raptors through what is bound to be a season of chaos, he’s got to be on the short list.
Nurse’s nomadic coaching background really is the perfect elixir to handle whatever this season can throw at the Raptors. And chances are that will be plenty.
A man who has coached 15 teams in four different countries isn’t about to come unglued or allow his team to lose focus just because it is playing at least half of its season away from home.
Typical of Nurse’s approach to dealing with the unknown, or dealing with changing circumstances, was his response to a query about the initial transition to Tampa where the team will train and call home at least until the midway part of the season — and perhaps for its duration.
“Pretty smooth, yeah, it’s, you know, rhythms change a little bit, get used to it, but, you know, just another stop along the coaching journey for me,” he said on Wednesday. “Just another place to live, another city, another thing going on.”
Nurse, in his first public comments since the team arrived in Tampa made it very clear that he will not be using the Raptors unique distinction as the only team playing out of its market as any type of excuse for him or his players.
“There’s a lot of unsettling feelings about having to leave, to be honest,” he said about playing somewhere other than Toronto. “It’s not easy. Right? It’s not easy to pick up and leave that behind. Everything new and different seems strange for a moment.
“I can only say this: I know I’d rather be in Toronto, but I’m not. And now I’m going to make the best of it here and I’m not (going to) make any excuses and I’m going to get to work and we’re going to expect to play at a super high level, and that’s it.
“There are a lot of things surrounding what’s happening and we’re going to do our best to focus in on just becoming the best basketball team we can become. And we do that by starting with accepting. Here’s where we are. Put a smile on our face, get out on the right side of the bed, positive attitude and go to work. Right? And that’s, that’s how I kind of see it all from start to where I am now.”
Nurse experienced a lot of unconventional things — practice courts, arenas, practice schedules — in his more than two decades of coaching before arriving on the NBA scene and he has learned to adapt.
In that regard, he is the perfect coach to lead this Raptors team this year.
The team’s practice court may be in a converted ballroom which isn’t dissimilar to what they had for the second part of last season in the bubble at Orlando.
But it’s a far cry from perhaps the worst practice situation Nurse has ever found himself having to deal with.
That was in Derby, England, where his team didn’t have a facility to practice in and had to book time at the local gym where they had no more standing or status than the local badminton club.
“The club could only afford to hire the practice hall twice a week, so we practised on Tuesday and Friday nights at 7 p.m,” Nurse said of the local Moorways Sports Centre. “Badminton was running right up to 7, like literally it would click 7 and they were taking their last few (swings). And then they would take the nets down and we’d come out on to the floor and we had 7-9 p.m. twice a week.”
No matter how ridiculous this season gets, Nurse is confident that the Raptors will always have a place to practise and scrimmage.
“When people are worried about that kind of stuff, or show some anxiety, I always say the Raptors always do things first class and we always do things well,” Nurse said. “I would imagine they’re going to give us a good place to stay (in Tampa), a good place to practise, a good place to lift weights, a good place to meet, and all of the things that we need to be successful. I think it’ll all just be just fine.”
Far more important to Nurse right now is getting the newcomers to his team up to speed and on the same page with the returnees from both a schematic and philosophical standpoint.
Nurse knows better than anyone what losing defensive pillars such as Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka means to his club, but he’s also excited to see what their potential replacements in Aron Baynes, Chris Boucher and Alex Len can do in their place.
“I think that I’m always concerned with anybody new to the organization to get him up to speed defensively, first foremost right, so I would imagine there’s going to be a little bit of extra practice time kind of woven into our regular practice time, as you guys have probably seen us do in the past, getting guys up to speed, just the nuances of the coverages and terminology, the game plans, all of those things.”
That’s Nurse’s focus these next few weeks, and would be regardless where the team was playing this year.
BALLROOM DANCING, ANYONE?
The Raptors’ practice facility in Tampa will be located a short walk next door to another hotel that adjoins the hotel where the team is currently set up.
The plan is to take two vacant ballrooms in the as yet unopened for business JW Marriott Hotel and make it look and feel as much like the Raptors’ own OVO Centre here in Toronto.
It’s a plan mirroring what the NBA did for teams last year in the bubble.
“I think from that standpoint of the ballroom setup for practice, guys like that,” Nurse said. “The accessibility from a pure basketball and training standpoint, that was well done (in Orlando). The courts were great, the baskets were great, there were plenty of ’em. The weight rooms were right there and set up and the guys liked those as well, The training room was set up right there. We’ll have a similar feel (here), so I think from that standpoint it’s good.”
Walls are being erected to give Nurse and his coaches the same kind of individual office space they enjoy at OVO. In short, every effort will be made to bring everything they have in their practice court in Toronto to Tampa.
It may not have an identical look to the OVO Centre but the goal is to ensure anything a player or coach could get in Toronto will be accessible in the new Tampa setup as well.