Toronto Raptors

Nick Nurse on Toronto Raptors upcoming season without Kawhi Leonard: 'We've got some guys that will need to expand roles'

Fred VanVleet and Nick Nurse (NBA Getty Images)

The Toronto Raptors hired Nick Nurse as their new head coach on June 14, 2018.

On June 13, 2019, Nurse concluded his first season as a head coach in the NBA by leading the Raptors to a win over the Warriors in Game 6 for the first NBA title in franchise history, led by Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

A mere three weeks later, Leonard elected to move on, agreeing to sign with the LA Clippers as a free agent.

MORE: FiveThirtyEight gives Raptors 4% chance to reach Finals

Suddenly, the Raptors defending their title looked to be unlikely.

On Wednesday, Nurse joined SN 590s Jeff Blair and Richard Deitsch on Prime Time Sports, where he answered a pair of questions regarding the Raptors future following Leonard's departure.

On whether or not moving on has been easy for Nurse

"Listen, there isn't a whole lot we can do about it now that it's over."

"You know, we've got guys here and nothing changes much for us - we're into development, we've got some good looks at some guys at Summer League, we've got a bunch of guys getting together here for our regular summer workouts, et cetera so we just move on and progress towards training camp… I probably haven't given it that much thought."

On how much harder Nurse's job will be without Kawhi Leonard

"I don't know yet.

"I approach from this standpoint: We've got some guys that will need to expand roles that they wouldn't have had to, but I think we got guys that are capable of that. I preach ball movement. I think the assisted basket is still our goal. It's really the only thing that stands up in the playoffs."

"I think aggressive defence, I think playing a lot of people throughout the regular season, changing defences, being really good late game. None of that stuff changes for me. I think that's what we want our team to be and where we go from there."

"Now, listen, you can say [Leonard] made a lot of big buckets and he was clutch in the late game and all that kind of stuff but we're gonna have to develop that from somewhere else."


Kawhi's exit also caused a domino effect in which Danny Green elected to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Raptors responded with the free agency signings of forwards Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in addition to guards Terence Davis, Matt Thomas and Cameron Payne. Another new addition of some sorts is third-year forward OG Anunoby, who will be back in the lineup after missing the entirety of the postseason after undergoing an appendectomy.

MORE: Toronto Raptors offseason grade

Of course, most attention will be on the eyes of the six players that return from the Finals rotation. Judging by Nurse's words, 2019 Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry are two candidates for having expanded roles this upcoming season.

The Raptors had the league's fifth-best defence last year and add solid defenders in Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson after losing their two all-league calibre defenders. The added depth will allow the team to 'play a lot of people throughout the regular season' and the team's staff can work to unleash the untapped potential within each of its young players.

Nick Nurse went above and beyond expectations in his first season as head coach in Toronto. Now, with the odds stacked on the Raptors even more, he sounds prepared to pick up the pieces to lead this team to an impressive run once again.

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