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Toronto Raptors fire head coach Nick Nurse after disappointing season

Click to play video: 'Masai Ujiri discusses decision to fire Nick Nurse as head coach of the Toronto Raptors'
Masai Ujiri discusses decision to fire Nick Nurse as head coach of the Toronto Raptors
WATCH: Masai Ujiri discusses decision to fire Nick Nurse – Apr 21, 2023

Like a lot of Toronto Raptors fans, Masai Ujiri didn’t like what he saw from his team this season. But as team president, he could do something about it.

Head coach Nick Nurse was fired by the Raptors on Friday after a disappointing season where Toronto failed to make the playoffs and finished ninth in the Eastern Conference with a 41-41 record, losing to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA play-in tournament.

Ujiri addressed media about an hour after the Raptors announced Nurse’s dismissal. Visibly choked up after firing the coach who guided Toronto to its only NBA championship, Ujiri made no excuses during a 45-minute news conference.

“I believe that we’re going to win again in Toronto, and I feel strongly about that, but to watch us play this year was not us,” said Ujiri at OVO Centre, the Raptors training facility. “I did not enjoy watching this team play and I think that spoke loud and clear to everything that I think went on this year.

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“It bothered all of us. It bothered coach too. But sometimes we have to make changes and we have to move forward.”

Nurse joined the Raptors organization in 2013 as an assistant coach before being named the ninth head coach in team history in June 2018, replacing Dwane Casey.

He coached the Raptors to their first NBA title the following year, defeating Orlando, Philadelphia and Milwaukee before topping the Golden State Warriors in the final.

Click to play video: 'Masai Ujiri admits Toronto Raptors were a difficult team to watch this year'
Masai Ujiri admits Toronto Raptors were a difficult team to watch this year

In his five seasons as head coach, Nurse had the best winning percentage in Raptors history with a 227-163 record. But Ujiri noticed that Toronto’s winning culture had somehow soured at the start of the 2022-23 season, particularly following ugly losses in New Orleans and Brooklyn on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2.

“There’s something there that did not seem right at all and from there it started taking a turn,” said Ujiri. “But when you’re in a season you hope, you know? You want to do better, you see signs, it just was tough from there.”

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According to reports, former Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka is a replacement Toronto could consider. Udoka was suspended this season for an inappropriate relationship with a Celtics team staffer. Udoke helped Boston reach the NBA Finals last season.

Ujiri, however, said the Raptors still had to evaluate the past season before beginning their search for a new head coach.

“We’re going to go into that right after we get through this,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of conversations, just internally talking to (general manager Bobby Webster) and the crew and some of the things we’re going to be obviously looking at are the roster and the fits.”

Click to play video: 'Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse asked if in-season speculation about his future impacted team'
Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse asked if in-season speculation about his future impacted team

Toronto’s shaky play this season led to media speculation that Nurse, whose contract was set to expire after next season, would either quit or be fired. Some reports also suggested that a rift had formed between him and Ujiri.

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Speculation about Nurse’s future came to a head on March 31 in Philadelphia when he said in a post-game conference that he would have to think about his future in the off-season. Three days later in Charlotte, Nurse was asked by a reporter about those comments and he gave a terse reply, insisting on only focusing on this season.

Nurse defended those comments at this end-of-season news conference on April 13, saying that he was trying to be proactive.

“The speculation of whether I was going to be back or not that started, I have no idea where that comes from or what I was supposed to do about that,” said Nurse. “I needed to try to get the team or any of the players focused back on the job at hand and try to not have to answer that question every game.”

Ujiri addressed that imbroglio on Friday, characterizing it as a lapse in judgment.

“I think I’d lose my mind if I had to talk to you guys every day,” Ujiri said, drawing a round of laughter from reporters. “I think that maybe possibly Nick made a mistake that day. I didn’t use it in this whole process at all.

“For me, the timing was not great but (…) I’m not going to use that against him. He knows that. It was a mistake and we all moved on from it.”

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Media reports suggest Nurse will be in the running to fill other NBA head coaching vacancies. In the meantime, he remains the head coach of the Canadian national team, a role he has held since June 2019. He signed a contract extension two years later that runs through the 2024 Paris Olympics.

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