Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse reacts to a foul ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Chris O'Meara

Nurse happy for Finch, the latest Raptors assistant to earn an NBA head coach job

Nurse happy for Finch, the latest Raptors assistant to earn an NBA head coach job

Four months after he lost Nate Bjorkgren to the Indiana Pacers, Nick Nurse finds himself short an assistant coach once again.

Nurse’s longtime friend Chris Finch is the new head coach of the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Toronto Raptors coach deflected any praise Monday for the success of his assistants, saying the promotions are more a product of team’s success. But Nurse said he enjoys seeing his friends and colleagues thrive.

“I’m super happy for those guys. I think that their dreams of becoming head coaches in the NBA are important to me, and I want to help them get there,” Nurse said Monday.

Bjorkgren, also a longtime friend of Nurse’s who had coached in Toronto since 2018, left in the fall. Finch was hired as his replacement in December, and it’s unlikely he even stepped foot in Toronto, with Canada’s COVID-19 border restrictions and the team playing out of Tampa.

Nurse said the Finch deal came together in about 36 hours and he knew the team’s game Sunday against Philadelphia was going to be Finch’s last. Finch was the designated coach for the halftime television broadcast interview, and then the news broke about the T-Wolves hiring soon after the Raptors’ 110-103 win.

“I feel like I’m in the same seat I was three months ago, right? He was here and he was gone,” Nurse said after Monday’s practice.

Nurse and the 51-year-old Finch first became friends as rival coaches in Britain’s pro league, and then coached the British national team together.

“I’ve always seen it as my job to try to get people to maximize their career ambitions. I try to speak about them when I get a chance, and whenever I get calls about them, I certainly try to promote them along,” Nurse said.

“I don’t think they would be here in the first place if I didn’t really believe in ‘em. I think we’ve been lucky that we’ve had so many guys with head coaching experience and guys I feel that can be head coaches in the league.”

Nurse once described Finch as one of the brightest offensive minds in the game, and so, at least in the meantime, he planned to take on the offensive responsibilities himself.

After their woeful 2-8 start to the season, the Raptors are one of the hottest teams in the league, winning seven of their last 10 games to climb to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ success over the past few years has made members of their coaching staff attractive to opposing teams, Nurse said.

“It’s pretty common in most sports that I’m familiar with anyway,” Nurse said. “College basketball, the assistants that are working for top programs move on. NFL, certainly, the co-ordinators that are working for the teams that are putting up wins and deep runs and numbers on that side of the ball move on to head coaching jobs.

“I just think that’s a reflective of the overall organization and what we’ve done.”

Finch was introduced Monday as the replacement for Ryan Saunders, who was fired the night before with the team carrying the NBA’s worst record.

“We have excellent pieces in place, and I can’t wait to get to work,” Finch said in a statement distributed by the Timberwolves.

Toronto split a pair of games against Minnesota earlier this month.

The Raptors host Philadelphia again on Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

NBA

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