Nick Nurse will be the Toronto Raptors head coach for a little while longer, which is not new news. Over a month ago, September 15th to be exact, the franchise re-signed the 2019-20 NBA Coach of the Year to a multi-year contract.
The details of the deal aren’t publicly known, because of course, the Raptors are known to be a private, don’t leak anything, type of franchise. What we do know, from Shams Charania of The Athletic, is that Nurse’s deal pays him around $8 million per year. It will make him one of the highest paid bench bosses in the league, tied with the Mavericks‘ Rick Carlisle, and behind the likes of the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, the league’s highest paid coach at $11 million per year, Steve Kerr of the Warriors at $9.5 million, and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra at $8.5 million.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse multi-year extension is worth ~$8 million/year, making him among the highest-paid coaches in the league, per NBA insider @ShamsCharania.— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) September 21, 2020
The length of the deal is not known, but one can assume what it might be: Nurse signed a three-year deal back in the summer of 2018 when he initially was named the Raptors’ head coach. That contract would have expired after next season, leaving one-year left on the old agreement.
Let’s then assume “multi-year” means four additional seasons for Nurse, rounding him up to five with the one season that remains on the original contract. That would mean his newest deal would expire after the 2024-25 season. (Admittedly, multi-year could just mean only two or three years, but let’s dream big.)
Going off my own speculation, what could Nurse accomplish as Toronto’s coach before he’s up for another extension? We’re working with a fairly large window here of at least four or five seasons. There are some very interesting feats that could happen for the 53-year-old with the franchise and in the NBA.
Here are a few that come to mind:
Raptors’ Winningest Coach
Nurse through two seasons has 111 career regular season victories — despite 10 games knocked off this past season due to the stoppage/restart — marking him with the fourth most wins in franchise history behind Dwane Casey, Sam Mitchell and Lenny Wilkens.
Under Nurse the Raptors are winning at a rate of 55.5 wins per season. Let’s say that trend continues into whatever a 2020-21 season may look like. At that rate, Nurse would fly past Wilkens’ 113 wins and surpass Mitchell’s 156 victories to secure second place at some point during the upcoming year. It took Mitchell 4.5 seasons to reach that 156-win plateau and Nurse could pass him before his third season even concludes. (Of course, Nurse never had to coach Andrea Bargnani.)
Even if next season is only 72-games as reported, instead of the normal 82, Nurse would still likely pass Mitchell based on the rate the Raptors have been winning over the past two years. To dumb it down further: the Raptors only need 45 wins in 2020-21 for Nurse to become the second winningest coach in franchise history.
To pass the current most winningest coach in Raptors history, Nurse’s former boss Dwane Casey, the Raptors would need to continue to win at their 50-plus win rate for four more seasons. Casey, currently the Pistons head coach, left the Raptors with 320 wins in seven seasons — that’s 124 more than Mitchell and currently 209 ahead of Nurse.
At Nurse’s and Toronto’s rate of 55.5 wins per season — which may be hard to accomplish with so many questions about the Raptors’ roster for next season and beyond — Nurse could pass his predecessor in only his sixth year or before the conclusion of the 2023-24 season. This would leave Nurse with one year left on his contract to tack on some extra wins.
Keeping at a win pace of 55.5 per year for another handful of seasons is no easy feat. The only team to really stay in that conversation is the San Antonio Spurs. But that just proves, with an astute front office and a smart couch, it is possible — and the Raptors could be able to do it.
You could say Nurse is already the greatest coach in Raptors’ franchise history — as the only head coach with a championship ring — but being first in career wins would solidify that.
Another Coach of the Year Award
You’d be shocked, at least I was, to know that no coach has ever won two Coach of the Year awards in their first seven seasons as a head coach with the same franchise. Only nine NBA coaches have won the honour more than once (or ten if you include Larry Brown and his three awards in the ABA).
Most recently, Mike Budenholzer won the award in 2014-15 and 2018-19, but he did it with two different teams — the Hawks and Bucks. Gregg Popovich won twice in three years not so long ago but that was well into his coaching career (in 2011-12 and 2013-14).
Don Nelson also won the award twice in 1982-83 and 1984-85 and he did it with the same team, the Bucks. But he was the recipient of those awards in his sixth and eighth seasons, which puts him just outside our time range.
Pat Riley won the award three times in seven seasons, but his first actually came during his ninth year as the Lakers head coach in 1989-90. The other two came in 1992-93 and 1996-97 when he went on to coach the Knicks.
To round out this special group, Bill Fitch won his first of two in his sixth season (1975-76) with the Cavaliers and then another in 1979-80 during his first season coaching the Celtics.
Other coaches with multiple COTY awards are Hubie Brown, who won them more than two decades a part; Mike D’Antoni, more than a decade apart; Cotton Fitzsimmons won his two exactly a decade a part; and Gene Shue took home the award twice more than a decade between each other.
It’ll be tough to match Budenholzer (twice in five seasons), Popovich (twice in three seasons), Nelson (twice in three seasons) and Fitch (twice in five seasons) in trying to win the award multiple times in such a short span. And it’ll be even tougher to match Riley’s three in seven seasons.
If Nurse does capture a second Coach of the Year honour before his new contract is up, he would become the first to win the award twice in his first seven seasons as an NBA head coach with the same team.
This last point has nothing to do with a Raptors record or an achievement in the NBA, but one other area Nurse could stamp himself into the record books as a great coach.
It’s no doubt that the Canadian Men’s National Basketball Team is ready to take the next step in competition play at the highest level with the likes of Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dillon Brooks, RJ Barrett, and other talented players breaking through the NBA in recent years.
With Nurse taking on the head coaching role there (whenever this pandemic is over and International tournament play can resume), the Canadian team is going to be ready to qualify, compete, and potentially win at the FIBA World Cup and the Olympics. It would be the first time Canada has ever won the former, and the first time since 1936 they’ve medaled in the latter. In all, that could be quite the accomplishment.
Can Nurse really do it all while in Toronto? For however long he takes charge of the Raptors and Team Canada, let’s remember to just enjoy the ride.