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Sixers make it official, hire Nick Nurse as next coach

Nick Nurse, who led Toronto to its 1st NBA title in 2019, replaces Doc Rivers as coach in Philadelphia.

Can Nick Nurse's championship experience get the Sixers over the hump?

The 76ers are turning to another championship-winning coach to try and get them to the NBA Finals once again.

Former Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse has been hired as Philadelphia’s coach, the team announced Thursday, confirming a move that had been reported just days earlier.

“I’m honored to be named head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, a storied franchise in a tradition-rich city. Thank you to Josh Harris, David Blitzer and the ownership group for this incredible opportunity,” Nurse said in a statement released by the team. “It’s been a fun challenge coaching against this group over the last five years. Now, I look forward to coaching the Sixers and doing my part to deliver for this tremendous fanbase.”

“We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Nick Nurse as the new head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers,” Sixers GM Daryl Morey said Thursday. “His championship pedigree and diversity of experience mixed with his uniquely creative approach made him our top priority. We are confident that his leadership and expertise will help us unlock the full potential of our talented roster and bring an exciting new era of championship basketball to Philadelphia.”

The Sixers are remaining all-in with their championship pursuits by choosing Nurse as their new coach as they seek to end more than two decades of championship failure. Philadelphia hasn’t reached the NBA Finals since 2001 and hasn’t won a title since the 1982-83 season.

“Nick has solidified himself as one of the NBA’s best coaches and I’m excited to welcome him to Philadelphia,” Sixers managing partner Josh Harris said Thursday. “Throughout his career, he has won at multiple levels, including on the biggest stage when he led Toronto to the 2019 NBA title. He is a smart, innovative and determined coach who really stood out in this process. No matter the hurdles we’ve faced, our goal remains to bring a championship to Philadelphia and Nick is the right coach to lead us forward.”

Joel Embiid and the 76ers battled in yet another playoff game with the Raptors, this time in 2022 vs. Toronto, when the All-Star center barked at Nurse — in a quite PG-13 fashion — to stop whining about foul calls.

Embiid’s beef with Nurse didn’t end in the playoffs. After the two-time NBA scoring champion was held — held, in quotes — to 28 points in a 2022 regular-season game, Embiid charged the Raptors “don’t care about winning” as long as a player of his stature was held below his scoring average.

Hey, what could go wrong this season? The 76ers didn’t even play the Raptors in the playoffs.

Yet, when Brooklyn frustrated Embiid in a first-round series, the league MVP complained the Nets “kind of took the Nick Nurse route of begging for free throws and calling out the referees.”

Nurse led the Raptors to the 2019 NBA championship after they beat Embiid and the 76ers in Game 7 of the the Eastern Conference semifinals. The 76ers not only haven’t a title in 40 years, they haven’t advanced past the second round since 2001.

Nurse will replace Doc Rivers, who was fired after he led the 76ers to their second straight 50-win season behind NBA MVP Embiid but again failed to lead them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Rivers led the Boston Celtics to a title in 2008 and another Finals trip in 2010, but couldn’t get the Sixers to that level.

The 76ers held a 3-2 semifinals series lead against Boston before dropping Game 6 at home and were crushed in Game 7 on the road.

The 76ers still have to decide if they will try to bring back Harden — who is expected to decline the $35.6 million option on his contract and become a free agent — but making a move for a championship-winning coach like Nurse shows the franchise is still all in as it goes in for a championship with Embiid still in his prime.

Nurse went 227-163 in his five seasons as coach in Toronto, where his .582 winning percentage ranks as the best of any coach in Raptors history. He also spent five years as an assistant to former Raptors coach Dwane Casey before taking over the top job.

Nurse seemingly made his first play for the 76ers’ job in March when the Raptors were in town for a regular-season visit. Nurse said his relationship with president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster was at a crossroads and time would be needed to decide on his future.

“It’s been 10 years for me now, which is a pretty good run,” Nurse said. “I don’t know, over those 10 years, we’ve got to be up there with number of wins for anybody in the league. I don’t know what it is, but we’ve had a lot of good seasons.”

Nurse was right: Only Golden State (.661) had a better winning percentage than Toronto (.613) in that span.

Nurse played at Northern Iowa, then started his coaching career there as an assistant. He wound up becoming a head coach at Grand View University when he was just 23. He coached in Belgium and Britain — winning a pair of British Basketball League titles as a coach in Birmingham in 1996 and London in 2000 — then got a couple of titles in what is now called the NBA G League.

The second G League crown with Houston’s team got Nurse noticed, with the Raptors calling because they wanted to talk to him about offense. They ended up hiring him as an assistant, and he’d been with Toronto ever since.

The Raptors finished 41-41 this season before losing at home to the Chicago Bulls in the play-in round of the postseason.

Sixers president Daryl Morey continues to build the team around his old Houston Rockets connections. Besides Harden — and PJ Tucker and Danuel House, among others — Nurse coached Houston’s G League-affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers for two seasons while Morey was in charge. Nurse won the G-League title in 2013 before moving on to a successful NBA career.

Nurse led the Raptors to the title in his debut season. And despite Kawhi Leonard’s departure, the Raptors were playing well before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the season in March 2020. Toronto wasn’t the same in the bubble and lost to Boston in seven games in the second round of the playoffs, though Nurse did win the NBA Coach of the Year.