Hiring Nick Nurse is a solid Sixers move. Out goes Doc Rivers, in comes a 55-year-old coach who won it all just five seasons ago.

Nurse is a good middle ground between player respect and Xs and Os. He’ll get out the whiteboard and manage a game, but he’s also been around long enough and coached enough stars to understand that side of it as well. If Doc was too much of the latter and not enough of the former, Nurse will bring things closer to the middle. He’s just a sturdy, stable, straight-forward coach who is more than capable of leading a winner. It’s all contingent on Daryl Morey figuring out the roster and navigating the James Harden situation, which was always going to be more important than the head coach hire. That’s why you see cautious optimism from Sixers fans, but no cartwheels or backflips.

Five thoughts on the Sixers hiring Nurse:

 

1. Embiid is still the key

Nurse had some minor beef with the reigning MVP. In the 2022 playoff series, Nurse complained about foul calls and physicality, and Embiid more or less told him to stop his bitching. It wasn’t anything significant, and Embiid has been here before, perhaps best exemplified by the Andre Drummond signing of a few years back, which ended up working out fine.

We know that Nurse thinks Embiid is an emotional player who can be stopped with the right approach, and Toronto was one of those teams that doubled and swarmed Joel and traditionally gave him fits. Now they’re working together, and Embiid remains the key. Can Nurse bring to him a level where’s replicating his regular season performances in the playoffs? Joel underwhelmed against the Celtics and the Sixers don’t take the next step until he does. You could have Red Auerbach or Phil Jackson out there and it wouldn’t matter in 2024 if Joel doesn’t figure it out in the playoffs.

2. it wasn’t just about Kawhi

Critics say Nurse rode Kawhi Leonard to a title against a banged-up Warriors team in 2019. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but no NBA coach has ever won a title with shitty players, so that line of criticism is generally silly.

What we can point to is the following season, when Kawhi left for the Clippers and Toronto won 53 games anyway, finishing second in the east, sweeping the Nets in the first round, and then going out in seven games to Boston in the bubble. Nurse won Coach of the Year managing a group that included Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby, with guys like Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell coming off the bench.

You can also put little stock in the 2020-2021 season. Canada’s COVID rules forced the Raptors to Tampa, a bunch of guys were injured, and they stumbled to a 27-win season. Nurse got them back to 48 wins the following year and then they petered out at .500 before he was dismissed.

3. familiarity with Daryl Morey

Nick Nurse worked in the Houston Rockets’ system during Daryl Morey’s tenure and has extensive G League experience. He actually won it all coaching the Iowa Energy in 2011, then he moved to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and won it again in 2013, coaching a group that included Glen Rice Jr, Andrew Goudelock, Patrick Beverley (a handful of games), Donatas Motiejunas, and a number of guys who went on to have successful careers in Europe.

Nurse left after that second G League title, joining Dwane Casey’s Toronto staff, then got the head coaching gig in 2018 when Casey was fired.

4. load management, or lack thereof

Nurse is one of those coaches who plays his guys lots of regular season minutes. We’re not talking Thibs-level rough, but the Raptors’ top MPG guys this past season were:

  • Pascal Siakam: 37.4
  • Fred VanVleet: 36.7
  • OG Anunoby: 35.6
  • Scottie Barnes: 34.8

Embiid played a career-high 34.6 minutes in 66 games this past season, and with his MVP in the bag, they’re gonna have to have serious discussions about load managing him in 2023-24. James Harden is reportedly going to opt out, but he played 36.8 minutes at age 33 and isn’t getting any younger. Tyrese Maxey played 33.6 on average and Tobias Harris 32.9.

5. still motivated to coach, we think

One of the things that was a huge red flag when Doc Rivers was hired was this quote, dropped at his introductory press conference:

“I love coaching. I absolutely love it. But I was not going to just coach anybody, I can tell you that. I was ready to take a break. It just depended on the team that was available, and if I thought that team, in my opinion, was ready to win. That excited me. When Elton called, it was an easy (choice) to get on a plane and take a look, for me. When you look at these players, these young players, and their potential, the fact that they’ve had so much success at the ages that they are already, and where I believe they can go, for me it’s a job you just couldn’t turn down. That’s why I’m here. Just really excited about it.”

At the time, Doc was in his late 50s and had been coaching in the NBA for 21 years. Nurse is 55 and didn’t get his first top job until 2018, so it just feels like there’s more juice there. More motivation. Doc essentially told us he was burned out following his Clippers run, and it seems reasonable to think that Nurse has more in the tank.