Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse among Lakers' top targets to replace Frank Vogel

Toronto Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse watches his team in NBA basketball action against the New York Knicks in Toronto on Friday, December 10, 2021. (Chris Young/CP)

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is among the Los Angeles Lakers' top targets for filling the position after the club parted ways with Frank Vogel, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, though the pathway to securing his services would be complicated and it is not known if there is even mutual interest between the parties.

The Lakers -- who officially parted ways with Vogel on Monday -- are hoping the prospect of coaching LeBron James and Anthony Davis in a market like Los Angeles would entice Nurse to head west, Charania reported.

But all indications, both those said in public and those that have surfaced in prior reporting, have indicated that Nurse has enjoyed his tenure with the Raptors and sees potential in this group moving forward.

“Toronto has been my home for the past seven years, and I look forward to it being home for many more," Nurse said in 2020 when signing a contract extension. "I’ve watched this franchise grow and reach the pinnacle, and I look forward to the challenge of helping us win another championship.”

The Raptors franchise is no stranger to rumours centred on its staff, of course. Prior to Masai Ujiri's landmark extension with Toronto, rumblings of teams being interested in the architect of the championship-winning Raptors were common, most notably from another starry market, the New York Knicks.

Nurse, who earned Coach of the Year honours the same season the Raptors won their first championship, signed a multi-year contract extension the following year. That deal has two years left on it. In order for the Lakers to acquire Nurse, they would need to receive permission from the Raptors and engage with them on a prospective trade.

Trading coaches in the NBA isn't the same as trading players, as they can only be dealt in exchange for draft picks and must sign off on the move. Still, that has not stopped teams from orchestrating deals in the past, with perhaps the most notable case taking place in 2013 with the NBA's other Los Angeles franchise, the Clippers, who acquired Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics for a first-round pick. A year later, the Milwaukee Bucks agreed to send two second-round picks to the Brooklyn Nets to retain the services of Jason Kidd.

The draft-pick price tag does not bode well for the Lakers, though. Heading into their early off-season, Los Angeles has no first-round picks until 2027 and would likely need that selection to attach to Russell Westbrook's contract, if the team decided to end that experiment altogether.

There is also no indication that, even if the Lakers were willing to part with a pick, the Raptors would be willing to engage with them on a potential trade for Nurse. Historically, the team has enabled its assistant coaches in their pursuit of higher-profile opportunities elsewhere. But, in Nurse's case, the move would be a lateral one, moving from overseeing one bench to another.

Toronto, headed to the playoffs again after a one-season layoff, boasts one of the more exciting young rosters in the league, helmed by the likes of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and star rookie Scottie Barnes. Nurse has played a pivotal part in their development, an impact valued highly by not only the team, but Nurse, too.

“We really dig into player development," Nurse said Sunday. “They get into the player development. They start seeing some success. That builds. And then they start executing the game plans pretty well here the last couple months. They weren’t doing it real good here the first three months, but they have the last three for sure. That’s been enjoyable to see.”

The Lakers, after a season derailed by injuries and a roster that never managed to coalesce the way management envisioned, are headed in a different direction than the Raptors altogether. With no first-round picks in the coming years, the effects of age and a high-workload career showing on James, injuries limiting Davis' abilities and Westbrook's contract consuming much of their cap space, Los Angeles' pathway back to the playoffs is unclear.

After being eliminated from play-in tournament contention on Tuesday, the Lakers' 33-49 season ended on Sunday with a 146-141 overtime victory against the Denver Nuggets.

"I haven't been told s--- and I'm going to enjoy tonight's game, celebrate what these young guys did in terms of scratching and clawing and getting back in this game and getting a W, and we'll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow," Vogel told reporters during his post-game media availability when asked about his future.

The next day, the Lakers made the firing official, parting ways with the coach who helped guide them to the 2019-20 NBA championship.

While Nurse is reportedly among the Lakers' top picks to replace Vogel, the list is expected to feature other candidates as well, including Juwan Howard, the University of Michigan coach who interviewed for the Los Angeles gig back in 2019.

The Westbrook experiment failed in Los Angeles. Will Indiana try it next?

In addition to their pursuit of a new coach, the Lakers are examining other avenues of improving the team on the court, including a trade centred on Westbrook, according to Charania.

Westbrook, who has a $47-million player option that he will likely pick up, failed to mesh in Los Angeles. But the Indiana Pacers are believed to have considered a trade package for him, Charania noted.

The reported deal would be built around Tyrese Haliburton, who the Pacers acquired at the trade deadline from the Sacramento Kings, but Malcolm Brogdon and Buddy Hield could also factor into the conversation if the Pacers' goal is to open up future cap space by taking on Westbrook's deal in the present. Hield has two years and $40.4 million remaining on his contract, while Brogdon has three years and $68 million.

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