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Nurse, Raptors dealing with off-season like no other as uncertainty reigns

Raptors coach Nick Nurse raved about point guard Fred VanVleet, but he also knows that there is no roster certainty. Getty Images
Raptors coach Nick Nurse raved about point guard Fred VanVleet, but he also knows that there is no roster certainty. Getty Images

Nick Nurse has the security of a financially life-changing new contract after inking the new deal last week, but beyond that, the coach of the Toronto Raptors is facing a lot of uncertainty.

For one, there is no firm indication when Nurse will be able to gather up his players and staff to prepare for the 2020-21 NBA season. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told CNN this week January is now the most optimistic timeline, but given the league’s desire to have paying fans in the stands for the season, few actually believe January is realistic. Ex-Raptors star Kawhi Leonard mentioned February or March when he exited the Orlando bubble.

“I think you don’t have much choice, but to understand that there’s nothing etched in stone, just on timing really on anything,” Nurse said on Thursday when asked by Postmedia about this unique situation.

“And then just have as many, meetings or, or as much communication on all those fronts as you can just to kind of get a sense of where you are,” he added.

Nurse doesn’t even know which members of his coaching staff will return with him whenever they get the go-ahead to start camp. Nurse confirmed that one of his top assistant coaches, close friend Nate Bjorkgren was a finalist for the Indiana Pacers job that became available when Nate McMillan was fired. Nurse said Bjorkgren will do an in-person interview with the club (former all-star Chauncey Billups) and veteran coach Mike D’Antoni have been considered the front-runners). Lead Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin has been connected to several openings, but is the betting favourite to helm the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he was formerly on the coaching staff of Billy Donovan, who left to take over in Chicago.

“When you’ve got a successful organization, people are going to look at ’em and see if there’s some people they can pick off and go from there,” Nurse said.

Nurse said he had good exit interviews with a number of the club’s youngsters, including OG Anunoby and Terence Davis and raved about point guard Fred VanVleet, but he also knows that there is no roster certainty. VanVleet and top centres Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are all unrestricted free agents, with no guarantees each — or any — of those key players will be Raptors next season.

And while Nurse knows that general manager Bobby Webster will be sticking around long-term with him in Toronto (president Masai Ujiri said Webster was close to inking a new deal of his own), but not if Ujiri will stay longer than the lone year remaining on his own contract.

Plus there’s Nurse’s duties as head coach of the Canadian national team, a squad hoping to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 2000. Will there be a last-chance tournament in Victoria? Will there be an Olympics at all? Nobody knows at this point.

With vast experience coaching overseas and in minor leagues, where rosters, finances and sometimes even rules changed often on the fly, Nurse is used to having few things set in stone. Perhaps that’s why he’s staying positive.

“I know it’s a little weird, a little over the calendar and stuff (of a normal year), but we’ll try to replicate because 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 said.

“Obviously, Bobby and Masai and the crew, we’re talking about the team, for what the team will look like, and all that kind of stuff. That’s certainly an ongoing process.

I just just literally got off a Zoom call with my staff about, ‘it’s going to be, 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 offseason 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.

“And then Canada is the same you’re just trying to, just trying to stay in the loop with all these guys, especially the leaders, (bosses) Glen (Grunwald) and Rowan (Barrett) and see what the forecast looks like for now. And again, I’m just hoping we can get back to playing normal and getting on a schedule and I’m hoping there will be a Tokyo, and hoping there will be an Olympic qualifier tournament,” he said.

“I’m just hoping that those days areA coming for all of us right, so we can get back to normal and moving around again.”

Amen to that.

GET IT DONE

Nurse wants to see Ujiri around for a long time and admitted to a bit of concern about the lack of a new deal for the team’s president.

“Yeah, for sure. We’ve been together, Bobby, Masai and I, for seven years now … 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 gonna 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. If it changes, it will probably be for a good reason for somebody, or a better reason. If not, we’ll just keep working together.”

MURRAY MAGIC

Because of his role with Canada, Nurse keeps a watchful eye on the many Canucks in the NBA and playing at high levels in Europe. Nurse said he’s in touch with many of them, including Murray.

Murray has been one of the best performers in the playoffs, establishing himself as a future all-star with the conference finalist Denver Nuggets.

“He’s been amazing, I mean, unbelievable. And that’s huge, again, all signs and any communication that I’ve had with him was that he’s gonna play (for Canada whenever that is possible),” Nurse said.

“So I think everybody should be excited about that, I know I certainly am and he’s really, really becoming a superstar in the league.”

STEP-BY-STEP

Nurse said while the Raptors have a general plan of how they want the off-season to play out, it could be a bit of a sprint once the NBA confirms everything.

“As soon as we find out a start date for next season, we just kind of plot in everything retroactively or whatever like we would’ve. We’d have a three-week training camp, so we’ll have a three-week training camp. We’ll have maybe three weeks of preseason and voluntary workouts prior to that three weeks, like we would’ve had normally, I think. I know it’s not normal, but I think as close as we can, timeline-wise, and doing things as similar as we can,” he said.

“Our player development stuff will have to kick in. And we’ve got some key young players that need to have a great offseason and keep ‘er going.”

Nurse mentioned Anunoby looked impressive in the bubble, particularly as a more confident and effective ball-handler. He also said he told Davis he was a special player and wanted to see him continue to improve.

@WolstatSun

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