The Toronto Raptors have their Nick Nurse replacement.
The team is hiring Memphis Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajaković as their next head coach, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The hire fills the final open spot in a particularly active cycle of NBA head coach positions.
The two sides are reportedly expected to finalize a contract soon. Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson and Milwaukee Bucks assistant Charles Lee were reportedly the other coaches seriously considered in the hiring process.
The spot was open after the Raptors fired Nurse following a 41-41 season that ended with a play-in loss, a somewhat surprising decision given that he had led the team to its first championship in the 2018-19 season. Nurse has since been hired as head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Rajaković, 44, had been an assistant with the Grizzlies since 2020, a span of time that saw the team make the playoffs in all three seasons. He started his coaching career as a youth coach in his native Serbia before becoming head coach with Espacio Torrelodones of the lower tier Spanish league. He broke into coaching in the U.S. as the head coach of the Tulsa 66ers, the G League affiliate of the Oklahoma City Thunder, then worked as an assistant for the Thunder and Phoenix Suns before landing with the Grizzlies.
The hire will make Rajaković the second Serbian head coach in NBA history, joining his former boss with the Suns, Igor Kokoškov.
Where will Raptors go with Darko Rajaković?
Rajaković arrives at a pivotal time for the Raptors.
The team still has four players from that 2019 NBA championship team — Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby and Chris Boucher — plus a rising star with the 2021-22 Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. It's a core you can convince yourself is a winner, but the Raptors just didn't win like they should have last year.
So Rajaković will either lead a Raptors revitalization after stagnating with Nurse, under whom there was some reported in-house strife this season, or be the person tasked with coordinating a rebuild. ESPN reported the Raptors wanted a coach they believed could handle either direction.
Rajaković coached one of the NBA's most exciting young cores with the Grizzlies as they turned high draft picks like Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. into the leaders of a Western Conference contender, though this season did not end anywhere close to the way they wanted.
The full 2023 NBA coaching carousel
Detroit Pistons: Dwane Casey out, Monty Williams in
Houston Rockets: Stephen Silas out, Ime Udoka in
Milwaukee Bucks: Mike Budenholzer out, Adrian Griffin in
Philadelphia 76ers: Doc Rivers out, Nick Nurse in
Phoenix Suns: Monty Williams out, Frank Vogel in
Toronto Raptors: Nick Nurse out, Darko Rajaković in