In mid-May, the Toronto Raptors fired coach Dwane Casey and have been searching for a new coach ever since. In that span, every other NBA team that had a coaching vacancy — the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks — has found a new coach.
The Raptors could soon join suit, as Josh Lewenberg of TSN.com and Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star both report the team is expected to name a coach sometime in the next week or two. Two names have taken the lead in the chase for the job — Toronto Raptors assistant coach Nick Nurse and San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina.
Lewenberg reports that Nurse was the one of the first candidates interviewed by Raptors president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster:
The belief, according to sources, is that the team has narrowed it down to two leading candidates – Toronto assistant Nick Nurse and San Antonio Spurs assistant Ettore Messina – with a decision expected to come this week or next.
Nurse, one of the first to be interviewed by Raptors president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster, was seen as an early frontrunner and has been an internal favourite for the job throughout. Messina made a strong impression on the Raptors brass when he met with them late last month and was in Toronto for a second interview on Thursday, league sources confirm to TSN.
Nurse, 50, spent over a decade coaching in Europe, primarily in the British Basketball League, where he won two championships and a coach of the year award. In the NBA G League – formerly the D-League – he also won a pair of titles, doing so with two different teams, and earned coach of the year honours.
Messina came to San Antonio from Russia in 2014, where he coached European power CSKA Moscow. He is a two-time Euroleague coach of the year and has also coached in Italy and Spain. He served as a coaching consultant for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12 and now is making the jump to a full-time NBA coach.
The 58-year-old Messina has won four Euroleague championships and coached Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili in Italy in 2001. In recent seasons, his name was raised as a candidate to become the first European coach to become a head coach in the NBA.
Though their backgrounds are divergent, both have one thing in common: This would be their first NBA head-coaching position. This is Ujiri’s first NBA head-coaching hire. This, as it happens, is also one of Ujiri’s first Toronto-based decisions that hasn’t involved a key piece of the organization originally brought aboard by Bryan Colangelo. In the sunny years before he earned infamy for a bizarre Twitter scandal that saw him part ways with the Philadelphia 76ers last week, Colangelo hired Casey, just as he drafted DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas and traded for Kyle Lowry. When Ujiri re-signed Casey to a three-year deal in 2016 — not to mention when he re-upped DeRozan and Valanciunas and Lowry — he was essentially sticking with another brick in a foundation he didn’t lay.
As of Monday night, exactly who will land the last remaining head-coaching gig of the NBA off-season remained a topic of conjecture in the basketball community. Some sources familiar with Toronto’s situation were betting it will be Nurse because Ujiri has a long record of defaulting to a known quantity. Another source in the coaching community figured it will be Messina — because he’s a different voice, and because he has the San Antonio ties Ujiri deeply respects. (Plan A, don’t forget, was to hire longtime Popovich assistant Mike Budenholzer before Budenholzer landed in Milwaukee.)
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