Nick Nurse says he has no problem filling his days at home.
The Toronto Raptors coach takes a steady stream of video calls with his players and staff. He works out, plays his piano or his guitar, and chases after his two sons, ages 1 and 3. Next, the coach plans to learn Portuguese.
It’s been more than three weeks since the Raptors’ last game – in Utah, and against Rudy Gobert, the Jazz star whose positive test for COVID-19 two days later prompted the NBA to postpone its season, taking action to help slow the global spread of the virus.
“Obviously, it hit really close to home because it was a member of, really, the NBA family,” Nurse said on a Friday call with Toronto sports reporters, his first since the league shut down on March 11. “The closeness of it, you know, I think made it very serious for all of us. I think I shifted into the mode right away of, ‘Let’s do what we’re supposed to do, let’s get home and stay home.'”
Nurse acknowledges this Raptors team feels special. It’s hard to be separated from them indefinitely, hard to slam the brakes on their efforts to defend their championship.
“I don’t think this happens every day, this type of team," Nurse said. “They’re fun to be around, and fun to coach and they compete and they’re tough, and they figure it out, and it’s a true joy. They are missed, there’s no doubt about it.”
The Raptors had a 46-18 record and were on a four-game win streak when the NBA season halted. They held the No. 2 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference with 18 regular-season games to play.
“There’s actually a lot more time to connect now, you know what I’m saying?” Nurse said. “I think the constant movement of a 12- or 13-member staff is hard to ever get everybody kind of in one place or everybody on a call or whatever. It seems like we’ve got a lot more communication going on now. I know it’s not face-to-face – but we try to do some conference call and WebEx and all that stuff just to see each other.”
Nurse said the Raptors’ medical team checks in remotely with every player daily to ask about any symptoms and consult about overall health. Raptors strength and conditioning coach Jonny Lee sent them all exercise equipment, from stationary bikes to dumbbells, and devised home workouts.
The coaching staff contacts players every day too, strategizing what they can do at home, from shooting on a driveway basketball hoop, to watching film. Before the hiatus, Raps coaches had begun creating robust scouting reports on all possible playoff opponents. They figured they might as well keep working on those.
“People were concerned about working out and going to the [practice facility] and all this stuff, and I was really, really strong in my messaging to everybody that we’re gonna close this and stay shut,” Nurse said.
This has been the first pause in a long while for Nurse. After winning the title last June, his summer was dominated by travelling with the Larry O’Brien Trophy and coaching the Canadian men’s basketball team at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.
Nurse confirmed that he remains “100-per-cent committed” to coaching Team Canada as it aims to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, which was recently moved from this July to the summer of 2021.
“We’re getting ready to have them all on a kind of a team-wide call altogether here first part of next week, just to touch base and keep some connection,” Nurse said of the Canadian players.
Nurse and his wife Roberta were among the 850,000 people who tuned in across Canada on Tuesday to watch the re-broadcast of the Raptors’ Game 7 Eastern Conference semi-final victory over the Philadelphia 76ers – by now an iconic moment in Canadian sports history.
Nurse had seen highlights from that game before. But for the first time, the coach had time to sit and watch it through like a fan. He had fun picking out details he’d been too busy to notice while in the midst of a championship run. Even some 10 months after Kawhi Leonard’s electrifying game-winning corner three bounced four dramatic times before falling through the net, Nurse noticed some new things.
“I guess I didn’t really realize that Kawhi put so much arc on that shot – that was my first takeaway,” Nurse reminisced. “You’re seeing things and obviously you don’t remember every little detail. But yeah, the big-picture stuff – it obviously lets it sink in a little bit. ... It’s enjoyable to see the guys play so well, and it’s enjoyable to see the crowd and to see outside.”
Nurse couldn’t guess when or if the NBA season might resume or what it might look like.
“If they can figure out a way to play, and it’s safe and we’re not putting people at risk, then I think we’ll play,” Nurse said. "But I don’t know anybody that has any feel for any of that stuff right now.”
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