Any suggestion that the Toronto Raptors' coaching staff is at fault for the team's COVID-19 issues is entirely unfair, head coach Nick Nurse said Wednesday.
After almost two weeks away from the team due to the NBA's COVID-19 Health and Safety protocols and the well-timed NBA All-Star break, Nurse returned to the Raptors sideline for the team's first post-All-Star break practice on Wednesday night.
"Well, I’ve enjoyed my last week off, just like you’re supposed to when you have some time off at the all-star break," he joked. "I feel rejuvenated and rested and ready to go."
Things, however, aren't totally back to normal for Nurse and the organization. Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Patrick McCaw, and Malachi Flynn all remain out due to COVID-19 protocols and the status of the team's coaching staff remains up in the air.
"We’re all just trying to get cleared and get through the protocols," Nurse said. "There’s just a lot of testing and things that go on. Looking at the short term, I don’t think any of the coaching staff is cleared for the game tomorrow. Maybe, there’s some right on the cut line there that could make it, one or two of them, after that I think it’ll again be day-to-day and you get to the weekend you’ll start seeing things a little bit more back to normal."
On March 3, the NBA announced seven new positive COVID-19 cases, and "many" of them were reportedly within the Raptors organization, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. A source reportedly told Charania that the team's internal COVID-19 spread had arisen from inconsistent mask-wearing from the coaching staff.
That was a report Nurse didn't take particularly kindly to.
"I think that I don't think anybody would have any idea what they're talking about saying that," he said. "That is a really unfair, very speculative thing to say, unless you have video evidence of it, because I don't think it's very cool to say that.
"I think that our coaching staff has worked their asses off and abided by the rules as best as possible. It's not easy. I think it's, the players have a tough job to do, but they're not wearing masks. The referees have a tough job to do, and they're not wearing masks and the coaches have a tough job to do and they are wearing masks. It's a little harder. But I think that we've come into an unfortunate run. It was certainly not that we're not really trying to adhere to the protocols as best as possible."
Prior to the team's COVID-19 issues, Toronto had strung together a 14-9 stretch and had jumped up into the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. It looked like the Raptors were finally back to their winning ways, but two straight games without Siakam, Anunoby, and VanVleet have turned things around in the wrong direction just 15 days before the trade deadline.
"It’s unfortunate because I think you’re right, we were playing about as good as anybody, for those 21, 20 games," Nurse said. "It’s gonna be a setback. I mean, I’m hoping we can raise our level of confidence up going into these games, these next three, and figure out a way to pick off one or two until we get our guys back."
Fortunately for Toronto, the next handful of games shouldn't be too tough. After Atlanta, the Raptors will face the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, and Detroit Pistons all on the road before returning to Tampa on Friday, March 19, against the Utah Jazz.