SIMMONS: The toughest half-season of Raptors coach Nick Nurse’s career

0

Article content

Halfway through a season to nowhere the Toronto Raptors paddle on, more entertaining than anticipated, less defined beyond the middle of the pack.

Advertisement

Article content

They are neither young nor old. They aren’t terrible and they aren’t contending. They’ve beaten defending champion Milwaukee twice but lost to Detroit twice. They’ve won some terrific games on the road and lost some gimmes at home.

And all of it has taken its toll on Nick Nurse, the head coach, in his fourth Raptors season. Four seasons, and none that are anything like the other. There was the championship in Year 1, the bubble in Year 2, home games in Tampa in Year 3, and now this, the uncertainty of professional life with too many injuries, too much COVID-19, not enough time to take it all in, and for just a moment, exhale.

His life in the NBA and before has been a documentary waiting to be made. From his years bouncing from league to league and country to country, Nurse came to understand unpredictability. But this is a whole new level, even for him. This season, with all its moments, and so much to revel about, has beaten him up the way few seasons in the past have managed.

Advertisement

Article content

“It’s been tough, man, I’ve got to say that,” Nurse said, when asked to assess the first half of the season on the night the Raptors played Game 41. “For the four seasons I’ve been in as head coach, this one has seemed to be the toughest.

“I know that seems weird after playing in the bubble, playing last year in Tampa … I don’t know what it is, but it seems there are a lot more valleys. More ups and downs. There are some stark downs, man. It’s been a battle to pick everybody up or pick yourself up.

“I’ve got to be honest, I don’t really have an explanation for it … We were thinking we were getting back to normal. And then we turn around and there’s no fans in the building and you know, we’re sitting guys out all over the place.”

And then he caught himself. That’s not Nick Nurse, usually. He’s not the feel-sorry-for-himself kind of coach. He’s not a Debbie Downer. He’s the kind of coach who makes players better.

Advertisement

Article content

“I don’t want to stay in negative city, here, there’s been a lot of positives too,” Nurse said. “You can almost go through a whole series of guys. Fred (VanVleet) has played amazing. Pascal (Siakam) has gotten back to the Pascal we remember. OG (Anunoby) continues to grow. Scottie (Barnes) has been great. And I’ve fallen in love with Gary Trent Jr. We didn’t know he could guard like that.”

And then he went on to brush by on some pet projects, the lost Chris Boucher finding his game in recent weeks; the semi-lost Precious Achiuwa, learning on the job, still semi-lost. Not Nurse’s words. Mine.

There is a lot to like about this Raptors team, even as they scrap to make the playoffs or the play-in round. If you don’t care about VanVleet, check your pulse. It’s the same with Anunoby. They’re keepers. It’s incredibly encouraging to see what Barnes is and imagine what he will become. This week, Siakam looks great. Last week, he looked great. And if this is who he will be, that’s great news for the Raptors.

Advertisement

Article content

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

But he seems to be week-to-week and month-to-month and who knows what that means — but there is a certain encouragement to have Siakam and Anunoby and Barnes and Trent and VanVleet all on the court together. That’s a competitive NBA first unit. Not a championship lineup but a team to give others trouble.

The second unit, though, not so much, The trade deadline comes next month and Goran Dragic and his Instagram photos will be sent somewhere for something, and the rest of the Raptors roster is mostly marginal and day-to-day.

Advertisement

Article content

You need an A-superstar to be a real competitive NBA team and Barnes could well be that player down the road. VanVleet is already punching above his weight. Anunoby is a keeper. There is more for Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster to care about and feel good about than they might have expected in this season where Nurse rarely has had a set lineup and it’s one thing for the team to be sick, it’s another for it to be injured as often as they seem to be.

Nurse has probably overplayed his best players because he’s had to and four Raptors are among the top 10 in time on the floor on a nightly basis in the NBA. That will catch up with them as the season moves on. That’s the act of a coach who knows he has few options in his lineup and as the old radio stations would tell you, always play your A-records.

A coach who is trying to win, trying to remain balanced, trying to pick himself and his team up, all of it at the very same time.

ssimmons@postmedia.com

twitter.com/simmonssteve

    Advertisement

    Comments

    Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

    Source link

    Denial of responsibility! NewsConcerns is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – admin@newsconcerns.com. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

    Leave a comment