- Gary Trent Jr. missed the Raptors’ game on Friday but it wasn’t the related to the elbow injury that kept him out of the previous four games. Trent was sidelined by back spasms, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets.
Nick Nurse‘s future in Toronto has been a subject of speculation as of late, with multiple reports this week suggesting there has been some league-wide chatter about Nurse’s status. Asked on Friday about those rumors, the Raptors head coach could have poured cold water on them, but his response only added more fuel, writes Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca.
“I think when this season gets done, we’ll evaluate everything,” Nurse told reporters. “Even personally, I’m going to take a few weeks to see where I’m at, where my head’s at, and just see how the relationship with the organization is and everything. It’s been 10 years for me now, which is a pretty good run.”
Nurse has been the head coach in Toronto since 2018 and was an assistant with the franchise under Dwane Casey for five years before that. It has been the Raptors’ most successful decade since entering the NBA in 1995, and Nurse has had a major hand in that success, leading the team to its first ever championship in 2019 and a 224-161 (.582) record across his five seasons.
However, the last three years have been more up and down than the first two. Toronto was just 27-45 in 2020/21 — that appeared at the time to be an aberration due to the fact that the team was forced to play its home games in Tampa due to COVID-19. Following a 48-win showing in 2021/22 though, this season has also been an underwhelming one. The Raptors currently sit under .500 (38-39) with just five games left to play, resulting in speculation about Nurse’s future.
Nurse’s contract expires after the 2023/24 season, and sources with knowledge of the situation tell Lewenberg that the 55-year-old doesn’t want to go into next season as a “lame-duck” coach. So, assuming he wants to continue coaching in Toronto, he’ll be seeking an extension this spring.
That means the Raptors will essentially have to make a decision this year, one way or the other, on Nurse’s future. Both directions – retaining Nurse or making a change – seem plausible at this time, Lewenberg writes, while Eric Koreen of The Athletic says a coaching change feels more likely than not.
Determining Nurse’s future will be just one part of a big offseason for the Raptors, who also have Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, and Gary Trent Jr. facing potential free agency.
Ime Udoka has been linked to the Raptors as a possible target if they do move on from Nurse. As Koreen points out, Udoka interviewed for the team’s head coaching job in 2018 and has been associated with Basketball Without Borders, which works closely with Masai Ujiri‘s Giants of Africa initiative. Of course, the off-court incident that ended Udoka’s tenure in Boston would be a complicating factor for the Raptors or any other team interested in pursuing the former Celtics head coach.
Nurse, meanwhile, has been linked to Houston, where head coach Stephen Silas isn’t a lock to return next season. Nurse coached the Rockets‘ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, from 2011-13 before joining the Raptors.
- There has been no shortage of speculation from scouts, front office executives, assistant coaches, and other people around the NBA about the coaching situation in Toronto, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Smith cautions that there haven’t been “loud whispers” around the Raptors themselves, and any decisions involving head coach Nick Nurse wouldn’t be made until after the season. It’s very possible Nurse will be back for the final year of his current contract, according to Smith, who notes that roster construction and injuries may be more to blame for Toronto’s underwhelming season than Nurse’s performance.
Point guard Jeff Dowtin, who is on a two-way contract with the Raptors, has seen regular playing time as Fred VanVleet‘s backup in the team’s last three games, logging 20.4 minutes per night during that stretch. Dowtin’s numbers (4.7 PPG, 3.0 APG, .417/.400/.667 shooting) are relatively modest, but Toronto has played better this season when he sees at least 10 minutes of action, notes Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca.
“I think he’s played for us well just about every time he’s gone out there,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “We’re always talking about solid play, which is guarding your position as well as you can and executing at both ends of the floor. He’s got us running stuff and is capable of scoring a little bit as well on his own but doesn’t overdo it. He just fits in nicely there on both ends.”
Unfortunately for Toronto, Dowtin only has three games of eligibility left on his two-way deal. If the Raptors want to make him eligible to play in the rest of their regular season games and potential play-in and playoff contests, they’ll have to promote him to their 15-man roster by converting him to a standard contract.
The team doesn’t currently have an open spot on its 15-man squad, but Grange believes that Joe Wieskamp and Thaddeus Young are candidates to be cut in the event of a Dowtin promotion. Toronto is very close to the luxury tax line, but should be able to stay out of tax territory even after converting Dowtin’s contract, since a prorated minimum-salary cap hit this late in the season is minuscule.
Here’s more on the Raptors:
- With several key players headed for free agency this summer, Eric Koreen of The Athletic observes that the Raptors could use some low-cost contributors off the bench and suggests that Dowtin may be a fit on the roster beyond this season.
- In a separate article for The Athletic, Koreen says that the ongoing development of Scottie Barnes needs to remain a top priority for the Raptors, since Barnes’ ceiling may go a long way to determining the club’s ceiling in the next few years.
- Raptors wing Gary Trent Jr. has missed the last four games due to what the team is referring to as right elbow stiffness. Nurse said on Tuesday that Trent, who was originally listed as doubtful for yesterday’s game vs. Miami, is “getting closer,” according to Grange (Twitter link).
- Another wing, Will Barton, also missed Tuesday’s game due to a sprained left ankle, but Nurse doesn’t believe that injury is serious or will keep him out long, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca.
Joel Embiid is listed as questionable as the Sixers square off against the Nuggets on Monday in a battle of MVP candidates. Embiid said that if he plays, he won’t be focused on his individual matchup with Nikola Jokic, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes.
“These types of matchups, whether it’s against (Giannis Antetokounmpo) whether it’s against him, it’s cool and all,” Embiid said, “but at the end of the day, it’s always about Milwaukee against Philly or Denver against Philly. (Individual matchups) is not where the focus should be. The focus is on making sure everything is running right for later on (during the playoffs).”
If he does play, Embiid says he’ll need a night off soon to rest his sore calf, Pompey tweets.
“I’ve been playing a lot of minutes, I’ve been playing every single game.” Embiid said. “So to add to that, dealing with the calf and whatever the foot, I think at some point you gotta look at the bigger picture, which is the playoffs, obviously.”
We have more from the Atlantic Division:
- OG Anunoby was a prominent trade candidate before February’s deadline but the Raptors were glad to have him on Sunday. He poured in 29 points in a pivotal victory over the Wizards, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star writes. “I think that almost all the time he catches and shoots, it’s a good shot — even if he’s pretty covered, especially in the corner,” coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s a really high-percentage, high-contest corner three shooter. He had a couple of mid-rangers off the catch, too — which, again, I like. He was feeling it, obviously. I think when guys are feeling it, you want them to get to wherever they can get to and let it go, so I think that’s what was going on (Sunday).”
- The Knicks could benefit from the Mavericks’ misery, Jared Schwartz of the New York Post notes. Dallas owes New York a first-round pick, though it’s top-10 protected. Dallas is currently 11th in the Western Conference after losing its last four games. The first-rounder also has protections for 2024 and 2025, and if it does not convey within those three years, the Knicks would receive a second-round pick.
- Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson practiced on Sunday and is listed as questionable to play Monday against Houston after missing Thursday’s game against Orlando due to a sprained right wrist, according to Dan Martin of the New York Post. Coach Tom Thibodeau said Brunson “did everything in practice” on Sunday and the team will reevaluate him before the game.
Former Celtics coach Ime Udoka could draw the attention of the Raptors and Rockets, depending on how their coaching situations shake out after the season, according to Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com.
There have been some rumblings regarding Nick Nurse’s status in Toronto and if the two parties decide to separate, Udoka would be a candidate to replace him, a league executive told Bulpett.
The Rockets would be interested in Nurse guiding their young, rebuilding team if he becomes available and they decide to change coaches, according to Bulpett, who adds that Houston would also explore the possibility of hiring Udoka if don’t retain Stephen Silas.
Bulpett previously reported that teams had begun the vetting process regarding Udoka. He won’t return to Boston’s bench after Joe Mazzulla had the interim tag removed. Udoka was rumored to be a candidate for the Hawks’ vacancy before they hired Quin Snyder.
Udoka was suspended for reportedly having an improper relationship with a subordinate. Udoka former boss, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, is hopeful he will get a second chance to be a head coach.
“Ime was and is and always will be a great friend, and so you can imagine that I was deeply disappointed and hurt for him, for everybody involved,” Popovich said. “It’s a difficult situation for him, and my hope is that he will bounce back and find a home.”
The Raptors have been rightfully credited for finding young talent in the past, including a remarkable three-year stretch from 2015-17 where they hit on every draft pick, writes Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. They found several diamonds in the rough, including Fred VanVleet, who went undrafted, which is how they became one of the league’s best teams for multiple years.
However, aside from Scottie Barnes, Toronto hasn’t found an impact player over the past five drafts, according to Grange. He believes last year’s deadline deal for Thaddeus Young has proven to be a bad decision, as Young hasn’t been contributing and trading down from No. 20 overall to No. 33 cost the Raptors the opportunity to draft players like Jazz center Walker Kessler (No. 22) or Andrew Nembhard (No. 31), who shined for Indiana in Toronto on Wednesday.
Grange acknowledges that it’s easy to say the team should have drafted certain players with the benefit of hindsight, but it’s the Raptors’ job to find and develop talent — they simply haven’t had much success with it in recent years, and the proof is evident in their lack of depth.
Here’s more on the Raptors:
- Some rival executives think the Raptors’ front office plans to run things back in the offseason with minor tweaks around the edges, but Doug Smith of The Toronto Star argues that would be the worst decision they could make, suggesting that a major move is needed to break the team out of its season-long morass. Smith points to Wednesday’s dispiriting loss to the Pacers as an example of why the front office would be foolish to believe the team is good enough to contend as is, particularly given the importance of the game.
- The 36-38 Raptors are determined to get Barnes and the team’s other young players more postseason experience, which is why they acquired Jakob Poeltl at the trade deadline. Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca takes a look at where the Raptors are in the Eastern Conference standings, writing that the No. 8 seed is probably the most realistic target. That would give the team two chances to make the playoffs via the play-in tournament, Lewenberg notes.
- Barnes (wrist), Precious Achiuwa (hamstring) and Gary Trent Jr. (wrist) were all sidelined again on Friday, tweets Lewenberg, but the Raptors easily rolled past the last-place Pistons. It was the second straight absence for all three players, who had previously been listed as questionable.
Sixers All-NBA center Joel Embiid sat out the second half of Philadelphia’ 116-91 blowout victory over the Bulls Wednesday with mild right calf tightness, but he’s expected to suit up for the Sixers’ next game on Friday, per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link).
While the injury is considered minor, Rich Hoffman of The Athletic suggests it could impact how Philadelphia handles its final 10 games of the 2022/23 season. The Sixers’ other top scorer, point guard James Harden, sat out the win with a sore left Achilles.
Hoffman notes that Philadelphia is prioritizing postseason health over regular season wins down the home stretch, a strategy that could cost the team’s the East’s second seed and home court advantage in the second round of the playoffs should it match up with the Celtics.
“We’ve gone into the playoffs two years in a row with injuries,” head coach Doc Rivers said in a postgame presser. “We all know that you don’t win in the playoffs when your key guys aren’t healthy, period. So, we’re going to do whatever we can to be healthy.”
Here are a few more injury-related notes from around the league:
- Wizards power forward Kyle Kuzma and shooting guard Bradley Beal will both miss Washington’s game Friday against the lowly Spurs, reports Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link). Kuzma is dealing with a sprained right ankle, while the oft-injured Beal is currently grappling with left knee soreness.
- Deep-bench Nets big man Ben Simmons is currently only engaging in individual workouts and not yet working out with the team as he continues to rehabilitate his sore left knee, per Brian Lewis of The New York Post (Twitter link). Head coach Jacque Vaughn was noncommittal when he was asked if the team would be able to ramp up Simmons before the end of the regular season.
- Raptors forward Scottie Barnes, big man Precious Achiuwa, and shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. did not practice on Thursday and are questionable Friday in a winnable game against the rebuilding Pistons, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter). Grange observes (Twitter link) that Barnes is exercising caution with his ailing left wrist. Achiuwa is dealing with a hamstring injury, while Trent has an elbow ailment.
- When Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL six months ago, the injury was considered very likely to end his season. Though it remains a long shot, Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston writes that the Celtics forward continues to keep the door ajar for a potential return for the postseason. “Playoffs, it’s still in my head,” Gallinari said. “A lot of steps that need to be done before you play an actual game. And even maybe after all those steps, you are not ready for a playoff game because when you don’t play the whole season and then be ready to play a playoff game is not easy for anybody, not just body-wise but mentally-wise. But like I said, it might happen. So we’ll see.”
An MRI on Scottie Barnes‘ left wrist came back clean, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link). However, the wrist – which the Raptors forward injured during Sunday’s loss in Milwaukee – is still sore and will likely undergo more testing, Lewenberg adds. For now, Barnes is considered day-to-day, and Lewenberg believes he’ll likely be listed as questionable to play on Wednesday vs. Indiana after not practicing on Tuesday.
Here are a few more injury-related notes from around the NBA:
- Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma has been ruled out for Tuesday’s contest in Orlando due to a right ankle sprain, tweets Josh Robbins of The Athletic. It will be the third time in the last four games that Washington will be without either Kuzma or Kristaps Porzingis.
- Following an MRI, Hawks forward Jalen Johnson was diagnosed with a mild hamstring and groin strain, a league source tells Lauren L. Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). According to Williams, Johnson will be reevaluated early next week.
- Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen, who has been out for four games due to a right eye contusion, is nearing a return. According to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com (Twitter link), Allen was a full participant in Monday’s practice and has a chance to play on Tuesday. He’s currently listed as questionable.
- After missing four games due to a right ankle sprain, Pacers rookie Bennedict Mathurin returned to action on Monday, as Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star details. Mathurin showed no ill effects following the brief layoff, scoring 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
- The Raptors’ 15-point win over Minnesota included a 19-point outing off the bench from Gary Trent Jr., who is expected to opt out of his $18.56MM contract for next season in order to become a free agent. Trent was a starter for much of the season, but head coach Nick Nurse said that having the veteran wing on the second unit has been a huge boost to the bench. “We need his offensive production,” Nurse told Eric Koreen of The Athletic. “It’s kind of his role on the team, is to keep the offense ticking over when some of the main guys are off the floor.”