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

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse had barely set foot in the City of Brotherly Love when he began to be grilled by Sixers fans who wanted 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 at the airport and walk by and maybe turn around to say ‘hi coach,'” Nurse said in a recent appearance on Tyrese Maxey’s podcast, Maxey on the microphone. “I come to Philly and land and they’d be straight up like ‘Coach you want to do such and such’ like train me right away.”

After several years of disappointing early playoff exits and now quiet free agency, Sixers fans have understandably wondered “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 past three seasons.

Nurse was at the helm Toronto Raptors from 2018-2023 after serving as an assistant coach for five years. During 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 field.

“When those fans walk up the stairs at the end of the game, they should be thinking ‘man, those guys played their backs off,'” Nurse said. “If they say that, regardless of what really happens, then I think our coaching staff has done its job.”

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

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

Player accountability, or lack thereof, has been a major criticism among Sixers fans for years. That’s something Nurse plans to address by actively assessing players on how they handle each new task they’re given on the field and adjusting from there.

“People use the word ‘accountability’ a lot. It also has to have a meaning,” said the nurse. “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 are and learn from it’.”

Nurse is no stranger to an assess-and-adjust approach to game strategy. In fact, he is often considered 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 a basic statement of ‘sometimes I think there’s got to be a better way.’ Sometimes I look at a situation on the field, and for 30 years or 40 years, every coach I’ve ever studied said, ‘it has to be done this way’ and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me or the team I’m coaching,” explained Nurse. “So I say ‘let’s come up with something new’ and we try it. It’s like experimenting. If it works, we’ll keep it and put it in our playoff toolbox. If it doesn’t work, we crumple it up and quickly throw it away.”

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

“One thing I really thought about was how you say you try new things and you try them out,” Maxey said. “Crazy. I’ve never had a coach who likes to test them in the games.”

Getting players to buy in like that will be critical, especially when Nurse ends up asking players to do things they might not have normally done in the past. The nurse gave Maxey a preview of her plan to ask to establish this trust early.

“The night before training camp starts, I want all of you, everyone in the organization, and I want to ask you to keep an open mind. We’ll do something and you’ll look and go ‘man, is this going to work? I don’t think it’s going to work as a coach, but I just want to ask you to try it,” said the nurse. “If it doesn’t work, we won’t 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 over the past few seasons, including playoff series (including the one Sixers fans all dread to remember from 2019). Of course, he won’t reveal exactly how he plans to fix the problems, but he did offer a bit of insight into where he sees opportunities.

“From playing against you guys in a lot 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 going on and exploiting mismatches.

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

Given the similarities between the Sixers’ current roster and past seasons, all eyes will be on Nurse to see what he can do with this squad to produce better results than those that have plagued Philadelphia for seasons now.

No pressure.

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