clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nurse: ‘This is not a transformational type job ... I think [the Sixers are] very, very close’

Sixers head coach Nick Nurse joined ‘Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective’ pod to talk Joel Embiid, James Harden and more.

Toronto Raptors v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Nick Nurse comes into Philadelphia, not looking to get the Sixers over the media-driven-second-round hump, but to help Joel Embiid and co. win a championship.

But what will the team look like? It seems like every other day we get another James Harden rumor.

Nurse joined Brian Windhorst, Tim Bontemps and Tim MacMahon on “Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective pod” and shared some behind-the-scenes conversations he’s already had with some key Sixers and much more.

Go give that pod a listen and get to know the team’s new head coach a bit better. But here are some takeaways.

On meeting with Joel Embiid and their mini “beef” about officiating and whining

It was reported that Nurse met a couple times with 2023 MVP, Joel Embiid. How did that go?

The reporters joked a bit about the running “beef” Embiid has had with Nurse about officiating over the years. You remember when Joel “respectfully” asked Nurse to “stop b-tching about calls” during the 2022 Sixers-Raptors first-round playoff series:

“It was good, we’ve had...maybe two or three kinda longish I would say, meetings with him. And that whole thing, I didn’t really realize how much we were going at it... in the heat of the moment, but I happened to catch a few while I was in Philly, on the sports news, and I was like ‘man, now I know what everybody's talking about.’ They were always... very spirited but never like... he was making valid points and I was trying to make my own valid points ... with each other and then as that went on through the years it just kinda turned into a he’d come out at the jump ball and he’d look over and glare at me, and I’d glare at him and we’d both kinda smile and get ready to go at it again. He’s an interesting guy, a good dude.”

It’s funny that Nurse ends with Joel is an “interesting guy.” If this was on a live, taped press conference and not a pod, maybe it could be our version of Nurse’s former player, Kawhi Leonard, once introducing himself to Toronto fans saying “I’m a fun guy.”

I enjoyed the casual nature of this playful history between Nurse and Joel. But I must admit, it seemed as if the interviewers missed an opportunity to follow up about what the basketball portion of their talks were like, or any other insight there about how they clicked, aside from old playoff beefs.

Offensive looks and James Harden-related things

Nurse was asked about what his vision is for the Sixers’ future offense. And here is where you might be inclined to read between the lines about James Harden’s future.

On adding wrinkles to the Sixers’ offense:

“I think it’s a very good team and I don’t know where you guys kinda saw them this year but I saw them as a team with a chance... so this is not a transformational type job ... I think they’re very, very’s probably wrinkles and tweaks and gotta dig into it a little more before I figure out what some of that stuff is, but I think a lot of it’s just gonna be a vision of trying to get where everybody wants to go and then a plan that aligns with that vision.”

Now these are my words not Nurse’s, but if Harden leaves, even if the team is somehow able to onboard a viable replacement (we explored how a Fred VanVleet or Bradley Beal play might look) this gig would absolutely be a “transformational type job.”

And the idea that they are “very, very close” is perfectly reasonable as they finished one win shy of the Conference Finals. But that wouldn’t figure to be the case if Harden bolted for Houston.

Nurse might remind us this is all hypothetical, and still Harden’s decision to make, but the way Nurse answered these questions, has me thinking he’s very much preparing (at least) to coach The Beard in 2023-2024.

Nurse will be busy

It came up that as he’s integrating with a new team, assembling a staff (like adding Bobby Jackson and perhaps Rico Hines), coaching the Canadian National team in the World Cup, along with Sixers’ free agency, and summer league...

“I’ve tried to just prioritize obviously the short-term things... I’m just about finished up seeing all the players face-to-face here for the Sixers. Should have that done by the end of this week. Hiring staff simultaneously, we’re getting closer on that, and then obviously we’ll be here for draft, putting a Summer League together, and just kinda take it step-by-step....”

Two thoughts from this.

One: Nurse worked in Toronto for 10 years — five as an assistant and five as head coach. It started to sound like he was burned out from that or ready for a change. Hopefully, he’s totally recharged; because that’s one busy schedule, coming from one grind to another with a World Cup sprinkled in.

Second thought: he wasn’t asked about the NBA Draft, but did mention it on his own. The Sixers do not currently possess a 2023 pick. So if they got one it would be via trade, or maybe a second-round cash considerations deal. Otherwise, they’d be scouting players hoping for a few to go undrafted so they could pounce and begin their new #SixersCulture of undrafted stars like Miami.

On meeting with Harden

On his meeting with James Harden, assuming he’s back, what about that pick-and-roll with Joel?

“Yeah, I did meet with [James], really good talk,... he’s an intelligent player, man, he’s an intelligent player. He sees a lot in the game and just... we talk about things - same thing he says ‘how did you see it? How do you see our team? What’d you think of the playoffs?’ ... He’s very enjoyable to talk basketball with, like I said very, very smart, had a lot of experience, lot of success. And I would say ... [Harden-Embiid is] a deadly inside-outside combination, it is a deadly pick-and-roll combination, and just what other things can we do? What other areas of the offensive side can we do to polish that, make [James] even more efficient, not in those kind of actions but maybe other actions. and then what’s the best thing we can do defensively to max those guys out?”

Brian Windhorst said “[Harden] singlehandedly won high-level playoff games by himself....he’s got a lot going for him still, he’s a highly-coveted player in that regard.”

To which Nurse replied:

“...There isn’t a whole lot of guys that can do — some of those performances he did in the playoffs, right? Steph [Curry] had one, [Jayson] Tatum had one, James ... nobody is doing that every night, nor should they or should they be expected to.... [Tyrese] Maxey’s gotta take a level up, he’s gotta play in some of those other games when those guys aren’t firing, or the game plan has changed or whatever, to take those guys out a little more. Tobias [Harris], P.J. Tucker will be back, there’s guys there...that can help. [De’Anthony] Melton, those guys gotta do what some of these [Denver] Nugget guys are doing, have some big time performances in some of the playoff games as well.”

Nurse sounds here like he’s painting exactly the type of picture Harden might like to hear, doesn’t he?

Recall, Harden may have been a driving force in Rivers departure, Jake Fischer reported. Ramona Shelburne noted that Harden and Doc Rivers was never a great pairing in part because “James is a free-flowing offensive player.” Chris Haynes noted that James is seeking “a competitive roster and the basketball freedom for the star to be himself, sources say.”

So in these answers, it sounds like Nurse is highly aware of that stuff and speaking directly to those possible concerns. He wasn’t blaming The Beard, but instead talking about how he delivered some of the best couple of playoff performances we saw in 2023, noting ways to get him going even more outside the pick-and-roll, while getting others to step up.

You can almost picture Harden conducting the orchestra, music to his ears, perhaps a refreshing change from Doc’s 2022 “you’ve been the President,” now it’s Joel’s time, metaphors.

(Just in case you’re wondering, it sounded to me like Nurse named Tobias Harris, and then the P.J. Tucker, “he will be back” part was separate. It did not sound to me as if he was listing both Harris and Tucker, hinting both will be back. I thought the “Tucker, will be back” bit was a separate thought.)

Defending Harden back in the day with a “diamond-and-one” zone

Nurse said he had a recent conversation with James about the time a few years ago when he was on an all-time heater, so they had to try a “diamond-and-one.” Toronto doubled him whenever he’d cross half court. They did a decent job but Harden, who’d been missing threes all night, hit a couple daggers to beat them. I think it was this game:

Oh, and here was another intriguing part.

When Windhorst jokes that James has perfected that “shoot the three and then fall on your butt on your way down....” Nurse quips: “I hope they protect the shooters next year.”

So what did Nurse not do in this interview? He did not push back every time the trio of reporters talked about him potentially coaching Harden and Embiid. I went into the pod expecting a bit more of stuff like “well, I don’t know, we have a long way to go before we know what this team will look like and I don’t want to....” I did not expect him to say this team may not need transformative coaching, but more just tweaks. I did not expect to hear he thinks “they’re very, very close.” I did not expect him to jokingly lobby for calls on Harden’s behalf so soon.

I know it was all hypothetical, but I’m turning my Harden will be back dial up just a few degrees today after this pod. At the very least, it sounds as if Nurse and the Sixers are nowhere near resigned to him leaving. Go have a listen and see if you’d agree.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Liberty Ballers Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Philadelphia 76ers news from Liberty Ballers