Nick Nurse makes return to Toronto with little fanfare despite NBA title win

One day that will likely change

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Nick Nurse returns to Toronto Saturday 190 days after the Raptors decided to fire him and 1,970 days from the date he took over as the team’s head coach. Both of those moves were at least a bit surprising, as is the muted reception awaiting Nurse’s return to Canada with the drama-filled Philadelphia 76ers.

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After all, Nurse is the only head coach to lead the Raptors to an NBA title or even the finals, holds a franchise-best .583 record in regular season games and collected 25 playoff wins, four more than his predecessor Dwane Casey in 10 fewer games. He was also a key part of Casey’s staff for years and collectively, Nurse-affiliated Raptors teams were by far the most successful in the close to 30 years the franchise has been around.

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Only Cito Gaston has also led a Big 3 Toronto team to a title since 1967, doing it twice, and Gaston is always treated like a conquering hero whenever he makes a public appearance. Hell, late former Leafs bench bosses Roger Neilson, Pat Burns and Pat Quinn were revered figures in Toronto on the back of playoff runs that didn’t even take the Maple Leafs past the conference final. John Gibbons is still a big hit here too, even though his Blue Jays didn’t make the World Series, let alone win it all.

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Yet, maybe because Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Masai Ujiri are more closely associated with the 2019 NBA champions than Nurse, or as a result of some odd behaviour down the stretch of his Toronto tenure (like openly bringing up how he might possibly need a change), or because two of his final three seasons in Toronto were disappointing, misery filled ones, Nurse’s popularity doesn’t feel close to where it once was, or perhaps where it should be considering his accomplishments. A recent Postmedia poll of Raptors fans asking whether firing Nurse was the right call by the Toronto front office found that 88% of respondents agreed with the move. And while 48% of respondents to a question about how they will remember Nurse chose: “Got the Raptors a ring, so he’s a legend forever,” 40% replied: “Thanks for the title, but thought run would be longer” and 12% went with: “Overrated.”

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Once more time passes, we’d expect the “overrated” bunch will be harder to find and Nurse will be more admired for his significant accomplishments while leading the Raptors. He should get an OK reception on Saturday, but his impact on and association with the 2019 group will be there forever and we suspect he’ll be greeted more warmly as years go by.

In the meantime, he’s got a soap opera to sort out with James Harden furious with Nurse’s new boss, Daryl Morey and with chatter increasing constantly that reigning MVP Joel Embiid’s time in Philadelphia could be winding down as he searches for a pathway to a championship.

Nurse brought one to Toronto, and that will never be forgotten.


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