With the recent departure of Raptors assistant coach Nate Bjorkgren to Indiana, it made sense to keep an eye on that vacant post in Toronto. Given how quickly the NBA off-season is moving right now, it also makes sense for the Raptors to snap up a new staffer as soon as possible. To that end, the reports are in, and Nick Nurse has apparently got his man: old friend and rival Chris Finch.
Chris Finch is finalizing a deal to join Nick Nurse’s coaching staff with the Toronto Raptors, sources tell ESPN. Most recently, Finch’ has been an assistant with New Orleans and Denver. He has a long history with Nurse dating back to the G-League and Europe.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 14, 2020
Much like Nurse, Finch is a basketball lifer and a guy who has been around the coaching circuit in not just the NBA, but the development and international scenes as well. As with Nurse (again), the 51-year-old and Ohio-born Finch began his professional basketball career in England. He played for the Sheffield Forgers (a great team name; they’re now the Sharks) in the British Basketball League (BBL) from 1993 to 1997 — just a couple years removed from Nurse’s one season spent on the court with the Derby Rams in 1990-91.
Once he was done playing, (like Nurse) Finch turned to coaching, becoming the head coach of the Sharks from 1997 to 2003. It was during this period when the two coaching amigos, Nurse and Finch, faced off against each other and developed something of a rivalry. Finch coached against Nurse, who in 1998 moved around the NBL as the coach of Manchester Giants, London Towers, and Brighton Bears. While Nurse stuck around Brighton until 2006, Finch tried his hand in Germany and Belgium before making the jump state-side, becoming the head coach of the then-D-League Rio Grande Valley Vipers in 2009. (By that point Nurse had already made the leap, becoming the head coach of the Iowa Energy in 2007, and ready to resume his rivalry with Finch.)
nick nurse's brighton bullets vs. chris finch's sheffield sharks in 2003 (sharks win 89-76) pic.twitter.com/oBU0XKO0CY— William Lou (@william_lou) November 14, 2020
Finch would go on to lead the Vipers to the D-League championship in 2010, winning the Coach of the Year award for his efforts. He’d follow that up with another trip to the D-League Finals in 2011, this time losing to — wait for it — Nurse’s champion Iowa Energy squad. (Nurse would win Coach of the Year for 2011, maintaining that bizarre career symmetry between himself and Finch.)
From 2011 to 2020, Finch would officially make the leap to the NBA as an assistant coach. He spent five years with the Rockets as an assistant, then worked with Mike Malone in Denver as an associate head coach, before jumping to the New Orleans Pelicans in 2017 to supervise the play first of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and then Zion Williamson. In that time, much like Nurse’s run as an assistant in Toronto, it’s been thought that Finch was due for a full-time head coaching gig.
So will there now be some sort of power or ego struggle between Finch and Nurse, two men forged by the same competitive fires over the years and across multiple countries, both with long careers as international head coaches? Rest assured, that seems doubtful. The final wrinkle to add here: Finch and Nurse have actually joined forces and coached together before. That’s right, from 2009 to 2012 Nurse was an assistant under Finch for the Great Britain National Basketball team. This run together included some EuroBasket tournaments and a trip to the London Summer Olympics in 2012.
If we did want to spend a little time wondering how Finch would fit in with Toronto’s head coaching staff, and Nurse in particular, there’s already been some reporting about it. Back in 2017, the Athletic’s Eric Koreen got into the history and also alighted upon how the two coaches complement each other:
“Nick’s got a great offensive mind, but his defensive mind was always sharper than his offensive mind, in my mind,” Finch said.
“He’s a really good offensive coach, so he had to give me something to do,” Nurse joked.
While there’s still much work to be done on the Raptors’ roster — including sorting out the upcoming NBA Draft and free agency situation — it definitely sounds like the team’s coaching staff will be ready to work together and excel.
Welcome to Toronto, Chris.