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Sixers’ Nick Nurse talks accountability, experimentation on Tyrese Maxey’s podcast

Sixers new head coach Nick Nurse sat down with Tyrese Maxey to discuss his coaching mentality headed into the NBA season.

2023 NBA Salt Lake City Summer League - Memphia Grizzlies v Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse had barely set foot in the City of Brotherly Love when he started getting grilled by Sixers fans wanting to know his plans for the upcoming season.

“When I was in Toronto, interviewing for the job and just taking the job, the Raptors fans would be in the airport and pass by and maybe turn around to say ‘hi coach’,” Nurse said in a recent appearance on Tyrese Maxey’s podcast, Maxey on the Mic. “I get to Philly and land, and they would be like straight up ‘coach are you gonna do this and that’ like coaching me right off the bat.”

After years of disappointing, early playoff exits and now a quiet free agency, Sixers fans understandably have been left wondering “why would this season be any different?” Arguably the biggest organizational change has been bringing in Nurse after the firing of Doc Rivers, who led the Sixers the last three seasons.

Nurse was at the helm for the Toronto Raptors from 2018-2023 after serving as an assistant coach for five years. In his time as boss, the Raptors made three playoff appearances and won two Atlantic Division titles, an Eastern Conference title and the team’s only NBA Championship. He also took home the Coach of the Year award in 2020.

On the podcast with Maxey, Nurse delved into his coaching mentality, from energy and accountability to experimentation on the court.

“When those fans are walking up the stairs at the end of the game, they ought to be thinking ‘man, those guys played their backsides off’,” Nurse said. “If they say that, no matter really what happens, then I think our coaching staff has done its job.”

Maxey asked Nurse how he plans to accomplish that, and how he will translate what he was able to elicit from his players in Toronto into similar successes in Philadelphia.

“We like to be aggressive. We want to try to dictate. We want to try to get you back on your heels and come at you. Both sides of the ball. It’s just a mentality,” Nurse explained. “That’s our vision and it takes a little planning and takes a tone at practice. From day one, we try to set that tone and then we just try to hold you guys accountable.”

Accountability of players, or lack thereof, has been a major criticism among Sixers fans for years. That’s something Nurse plans to nip in the bud by actively assessing players on how they handle each new task their given on the court, and adjusting from there.

“People use the word ‘accountability’ a lot. That has to also have some meaning,” Nurse said. “That’s what it means to us as a coaching staff is like ‘here’s what we expect you to do, and we’re going to inspect what we expected and see where we’re at and learn from that.’”

Nurse is no stranger to an assess-and-adjust method of game strategy. In fact, he’s often regarded as one of the most creative, experimental coaches in the league. He talked about the mantra that keeps him looking for new ways to shake things up.

“It just comes from one basic statement of ‘sometimes I think there has to be a better way.’ Sometimes I look at a situation on the court and for 30 years or 40 years all the coaches I ever studied said ‘it has to be done this way’ and that doesn’t make quite that much sense to me or the team I’m coaching,” Nurse explained. “So I say ‘let’s dream up something new’ and we try it. It’s like experimenting. If it works, we keep it, and put it in our playoff toolbox. If it doesn’t work we crumple it up and throw it away quick.”

Having that nerve to implement new things on the fly, even with a game on the line, earned praise from Maxey.

“One thing I really thought about was how you say you try new things, and you test them out,” Maxey said. “Like that’s crazy. I’ve never had a coach that like actually test them out in the games.”

Having players buy in like that will be critical, especially when Nurse ultimately asks players to do things they may not have normally done in the past. Nurse gave Maxey a preview of his plan to ask to establish that trust early on.

“The night before training camp starts, I’m going to have you guys all together, everybody in the organization, and I’m going to ask you to have an open mind. We’re going to do something and you’re going to look and go ‘man, is that going to work? I don’t think that’s going to work coach’ but I’m just going to ask you to try it,” Nurse said. “If it doesn’t work, we’re not going to be foolish and just keep doing something that doesn’t work. We’ll just move on and do something else.”

Nurse comes to the Sixers as someone who has faced them numerous times throughout the past few seasons, including playoff series (including the one Sixers fans all dread to remember from 2019). Of course, he isn’t going to reveal exactly how he plans to rectify the problems, but he gave a bit of insight on to where he sees opportunity.

“From playing against you guys in lots of tough games and playoff series, etc., I hope to play a little more unpredictable offensively,” Nurse said. “A little more reading of what’s happening and taking advantage of mismatches.

“Defensively, we’re going to do a lot. (Laughs)”

Considering the similarity between the Sixers’ current roster and that of previous seasons, all eyes will be on Nurse to see what he can do with this squad to create better results than those that have plagued Philadelphia for seasons now.

No pressure.

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