With Joel Embiid’s blessing, Sixers and Nick Nurse should have agreed to terms long ago

Tribune Content Agency

No disrespect to Daryl Morey and Nick Nurse, but … what took so long?

The 76ers have found a head coach to replace Doc Rivers who also has won an NBA title.

They have found a head coach for Joel Embiid who is not afraid to stand up to the MVP.

The franchise, which has enjoyed its share of talent, hired the most sought-after candidate.

The biggest clue that Nurse would take over the Sixers gig came Saturday when the former Toronto Raptors coach backed out of consideration for the vacant Milwaukee Bucks coaching job. That led to his close friend and former Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin being hired by Milwaukee.

Nurse also interviewed with the Phoenix Suns on Thursday for their head coaching job. Perhaps doing their due diligence, the Sixers also interviewed other head coaching candidates, most notably Wildwood Crest native and former Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel.

Let’s be honest: The Sixers were the best fit for Nurse because of his relationship with Morey, the team’s president of basketball operations. Meanwhile, the Sixers didn’t have a better candidate than Nurse.

He met with Embiid during the interview process, according to a league source. And the source said the meeting went well.

So on Monday, Nurse and the Sixers were working on a multiyear deal to be the team’s long-term coach.


After all, the Sixers were in need of a coach who Embiid respects, someone who can command a room, a proven winner who is known for making in-game adjustments. On paper, the team known for second-round failures has picked up a proven winner.

Nurse checks all the credibility boxes.

Nurse was the NBA coach of the year in 2020 with the Raptors. That came one season after he led Toronto to the NBA title. Nurse is widely respected around the league and had a hand in developing Raptors forward Pascal Siakam into a two-time NBA All-Star. Toronto point guard Fred VanVleet has grown from an undrafted player in 2016 to an All-Star in 2022 under Nurse’s watch.

He compiled a 227-163 record with three playoff appearances in five seasons as Toronto’s head coach. That came after he spent five seasons in Toronto as an assistant. And this move enables him to reunite with Morey.

The two have a great working relationship.

As the Houston Rockets’ general manager, Morey hired Nurse before the 2011-12 season to coach the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston’s affiliate in the NBA Development League (now called the G League). A season later, Nurse led the Vipers to the title.

And his competitive juices were on display during a back-and-forth with Embiid in a 2022 first-round playoff series between the Raptors and Sixers.

Things got chippy between the two in the closing seconds of the Sixers’ 112-97 Game 2 victory.

Embiid took exception to Nurse’s comments following Game 1 that more fouls should have been called against the center, who went to foul line 11 times.

“We’ve got to believe that, if we’re legal defensively, that they’re going to call those,” Nurse said after Game 1. “Like, we had a couple of times where we beat him to the spot and he bowled us right over, and they just let him lay it in.

“If you beat him to the spot and he runs you over, it’s a foul. I thought he threw three or four elbows to the face. He got called for one.”

His words didn’t have any impact on how Game 2 was officiated. Embiid made 12 of 14 free throws and the Sixers had a 30-12 advantage in free-throw attempts.

So Embiid had a message for Nurse in the closing seconds.

“Respectfully, I told him to stop bitching about calls,” Embiid said later in a press conference, “because I saw what he said last game.”

Nurse also shared some of his exchange with Embiid, which came after the Sixers locked up the game and were running out the clock.

“He was saying to me that, ‘I’m going to keep making all the free throws if you keep fouling me,’ and I said, ‘Well, you might have to,’” Nurse said. “A good player, man. I have a lot of respect for him.

“He’s certainly playing great here, and there’s nothing there. But I was trying to compete against him and him trying to compete against us.”

Now, the two are on the same team.

No longer having to game-plan against Embiid, Nurse will use his unconventional coaching style to get Embiid easier looks. And as their positive meeting indicates, he has received Embiid’s blessing for the job.

Critics will point out that Nurse’s personality might not mesh well with Philadelphian sports fans, who take pride in being from a blue-collar city. They’ll also note that the Raptors fired him on April 21 following a 41-41 season.

Yet the Raptors had serious injuries to key players this season. And there was a lot of uncertainty with who would be on the roster beyond the trade deadline. That took a mental toll on several of the players. But they finished the season by winning 18 of the final 29 games.

Now 13 days after firing Rivers, the Sixers are hiring Nurse with the hope of leading them to their first championship since 1983.

What took them so long?