4 takeaways on Nick Nurse’s introductory Sixers press conference
Four years ago, Nick Nurse was gearing up for Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Toronto.
On Thursday in Camden, New Jersey, he spoke to reporters for the first time as Sixers head coach.
Seated in between managing partner Josh Harris and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey on the second floor of the Sixers training complex, Nurse offered initial thoughts on James Harden, Joel Embiid, his coaching philosophies, and more.
Here are four takeaways on his introductory press conference:
Handling the Harden questions
Instead of stonewalling the inevitable questions about Harden, Nurse tried to tread carefully but firmly.
By far the Sixers most important potential free agent, Harden has a $35.6 million player option that hes expected to decline. Morey has said that Harden remaining a Sixer is the teams Scenario A this summer.
Nurse said hes talked with Harden, called the 10-time All-Star point guard a great player, and didnt volunteer much more than that.
When pressed on whether he wants Harden to return, Nurse said, James has a decision to make, and Id be very happy if he came back.
Asked about how hed sell the Sixers to Harden, Nurse gave a straightforward pitch.
Listen, I think that winning is always the sell, he said. Can we be good enough to win it all? Thats got to be a goal of his. And if it is, then he should stay here and play for us, because I think theres a possibility of that.
A (mostly) fluid style
Nurse emphasized his desire to learn, adapt as he sees what works and what doesnt, and tailor the Sixers schemes to best suit whoevers on the opening-night roster.
I certainly believe in youve got to play both ends, that both ends are really important, he said. And I think the style for the team will be based on how we feel as a staff. Again, we like to guard; I think its really important. Our coaching staff is going to try to put great game plans on both sides of the ball together each and every night.
We want to score efficiently. Can we create more possessions than our opponent? Can we take efficient shots? Can we have low turnovers? Can we get on the offensive glass? All those things that make an efficient offense and it looks different for every team. And sometimes it looks different for the same team from season to season. So I think thats all kind of TBD.
Of course, spending five seasons as a Raptors assistant and five years as Torontos head coach means that Nurse is already plenty familiar with the Sixers’ key pieces.
Ive studied the Sixers a lot in preparation for playing them, he said, but as I do a deeper dive into studying them, I think it always comes down to this: Im going to keep all the things that I think are really applicable and that they do really well. Were going to try to cut out some of the (negative) things that maybe we can improve. And itll kind of develop from there, and that journey will start Day 1. It takes a bit to get to know each other and then were just constantly polishing and testing and moving as we prepare to get to the end of April and May and then June, hopefully.
So I like that theres going to be some continuity. We know that, right? Theres plenty of guys that are under contract coming back. And then its going to be our job as a staff to try to get them up to speed and build it as we go.
Nurse has a few frustrating memories of opposing Tyrese Maxey, who scored 38 points in the Sixers 2022 playoff-opening win over the Raptors and posted a career-high 44 in Toronto early this past season.
Playing against him was very difficult. Just the sheer speed and quickness that he has, it was tough to game plan against him, Nurse said of the 22-year-old guard. Sometimes you just cant beat the speed; you cant come up with anything to beat the speed. Our experience was that it wasnt just speed and layups. Then he started shooting the ball really well. And then he started making a little further layups, and then a little further. We were trying our best to get him away from the rim, but hed still make a lot of those. Hes got a tremendous chance to improve and take a step forward. And from all indications, hes really hungry to do so. Good worker, good person, really wants to get better.
Theres some specifics, I would say being more of a creator. Well, what is creating? Creating is youre scoring or youre drawing more people than one, and then youre creating for others. So can he make all the reads? I think thats the first place Id start offensively, is getting him more reps in the pick-and-roll so he can make the reads to all the other players on the floor, depending on what he sees.
Nurses thoughts on Maxeys defense highlighted that certain aspects of his coaching style are perhaps not so fluid and flexible.
That seems to include persistent, pesky, aggressive on-ball defense for smaller guards like the 6-foot-2 Maxey.
Youve got to impact the ball a lot as a small player, Nurse said. Get into it, get up underneath people, get over screens, impact the body of the ball handler. I would say that we didnt really think that he wasnt a good defender. Again, we thought with that quickness and speed and all those things that he could get up the floor a little bit, disrupt rhythm and all those kinds of things.
So well see. But one of the things is we like to guard pretty hard, especially the ball, so we will certainly be diving into that and probably working on that with him.
I dont really vibrate on the frequency of the past
Nurse has a fascinating, well-traveled past.
He was reminded Thursday of the last time he coached below the NBA level. Nurse led the Rockets’ D League club, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, while Morey was Houston’s general manager.
Just thinking back to that time, we were looking for a lot of what we were looking for now in this search, Morey said, which is a partner who you can define an objective and say, Use (your) creative basketball mind to see how to achieve that, whether it be certain tactical things on the floor or certain ways to construct a roster. … Great coaches can help you unlock players that maybe can create value that other teams dont see or cant unlock. Thats the key.
Naturally, Nurse was also asked to reflect on his history with Embiid.
Following the Sixers’ Round 1, Game 2 playoff win last year against Toronto, Embiid noted he’s always been a big fan of Nurse. Seconds later, the All-Star big man said he’d respectfully told Nurse to stop bitching about calls.
Its a little bit entertaining for me because I understand there were some exchanges and things, Nurse said Thursday. When youre out there and youre in the heat of really competing, I didnt even really remember them. But I accidentally had my TV on yesterday and I saw a couple of them. They were pretty good. I was like, Man, I dont even remember that, but now I know what everybodys talking about here a little bit. And then it kind of grew for me, anyway to such a respect level.
Wed throw one thing (at Embiid) and even in that playoff series, a game later, he would adjust to it. We were kind of banking on this, and hed adjust to it. Again, it was a tremendous amount of respect for me. And as far as building the relationship, listen, I think he really competes and he really wants to be great. Its a collaborative effort like, How do you see it? Heres how I see it. Lets figure this out. For me, I just want him to have as much success as possible, and for that to translate to team success as well.
In discussing the Sixers second-round struggles 0-7 in the conference semifinals since their 2001 run to the NBA Finals, 0-5 since 2018 Nurse again didnt want to get hung up on history.
My first thought on that is this team could be playing tonight (in the Finals), along with some others in the Eastern Conference that wish they were getting ready to throw the ball up tonight. And that combination of staying healthy, the ball bouncing your way, figuring out the long grind that it is to go from the start of the playoffs to winning a title all those things are very difficult. Youve got to be able to do all that stuff.
And as far as the rest of it, I look at it this way: I dont really vibrate on the frequency of the past. To me, when we get a chance to start and dig into this thing a little bit, its going to be only focused on what were trying to do going forward. Whatevers happened for the last however many years doesnt matter to me. Its similar to Toronto a little bit. Itll be kind of a clean slate for me. Just looking forward to how we can get it done, from start to finish.
Elephants and open minds
As Nurse detailed on a December 2018 Inside the Green Room podcast with Danny Green, he placed a mini-elephant on his desk in Toronto.
Through being literal about the elephant in the room, Nurse hoped to prevent obvious concerns from festering.
One of the things Ive noticed with any team, but particularly in the NBA was a lot of times there were issues or problems, Nurse said on the podcast. Were not talking about serious things here, but theres some little problem or whatever. But everybody knows that if we talk about it, this players going to get offended or that coach is going to get offended, so everybody just kind of swallows it, hopes that nobody brings it up, and then we can get out of here. It doesnt let us address our issues very well.
One of the things I told the team was that we were going to say hi to the elephant. Its kind of a lighthearted way of addressing serious issues and hitting them head-on, and then moving on with them.
Four and a half seasons later, Nurse still appears to have that same outlook.
Were going to hit that head-on, he said in another response about the Sixers Round 2 woes. We know were judged on how we play in the playoffs. It was the same in Toronto. We hadnt played that well (in the playoffs) and certain players hadnt played that well, and all those kinds of things.
So the reality is thats the truth. I would imagine that from Day 1, were going to talk about that and were going to try to attack that. Were going to have to face it and were going to have to rise to it.
Along with aiming to foster a culture of open dialogue, Nurse wants his players to be open to whatever.
As he acknowledged Thursday, Nurse doesnt always meticulously plan unconventional adjustments. Hes fine with spontaneity.
The different, unique (schemes) something (the players) have never heard or that Ive never done go to them and explain why we think it might work. And then theyve got to buy it. And then theyve got to go do it. If it doesnt work and its a really bad idea, were going to crumple it up pretty quick and move on to something else.
But if it does (work), we kind of put it over here. Sometimes we call it our playoff toolbox something we tried that worked on a certain guy that we may need down the road. And it really starts with asking them to be open-minded. Be open-minded here, and were going to do some things that you probably havent done before. Sometimes we as a coaching staff dont even know what they are. They present themselves with a certain group of guys against a certain opponent in a certain situation. So its open-mindedness and a collaborative effort, really.