Raptors to hire Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic as next head coach, report says

The Toronto Raptors have their replacement Nick Nurse.

The team is hiring Memphis Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajaković as their next head coach, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Hire is the last open spot in a particularly active cycle of NBA head coaching positions.

The two parties are expected to finalize a contract soon. Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson and Milwaukee Bucks assistant Charles Lee were reportedly the other coaches given serious consideration in the hiring process.

The spot was open after the Raptors fired Nurse after a 41-41 season that ended in a play-in loss, a somewhat surprising decision given he led the team to its first championship in during the 2018-19 seasons. Nurse has since been hired as head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Rajaković, 44, had been an assistant for the Grizzlies since 2020, a period that saw the team qualify for the playoffs in all three seasons. He started his coaching career as a youth coach in his native Serbia before becoming head coach of Spanish league Espacio Torrelodones. He broke into coaching in the United States as 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 moving on. land with the Grizzlies.

January 14, 2022;  Memphis, Tennessee, USA;  Memphis Grizzles interim head coach Darko Rajakovic looks on during the first half against the Dallas Mavericks at FedExForum.  Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas - USA TODAY Sports

The Raptors could either struggle or rebuild with Darko Rajaković. (Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports)

The hire will make Rajaković the second Serbian head coach in NBA history, joining his former boss with the Suns, Igor Kokoškov.

Where will the Raptors go with Darko Rajaković?

Rajaković comes at a pivotal time for the Raptors.

The team still has four players from that 2019 NBA Championship team – Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher – plus a rising star in 2021-22 Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. He’s a core that you can convince yourself is a winner, but the Raptors just didn’t win like they should have last year.

Rajaković will therefore either lead a revitalization of the Raptors after stagnating with Nurse, under whom there have been reported infighting this season, or be the person to coordinate a rebuild. ESPN reported that the Raptors wanted a coach they felt could handle it both ways.

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 leaders of a Western Conference contender, although this season did not end as they wanted.

The Complete 2023 NBA Coaches Carousel

Detroit Pistons: Dwane Casey out, Monty Williams in

Houston Rockets: Stephen Silas, released Ime Udoka in

Milwaukee dollars: Mike Budenholzer absent, Adrian Griffin present

Philadelphia 76ers: Doc Rivers out, Nick Nurse in

Phoenix Suns: Monty Williams absent, Frank Vogel present

Toronto Raptors: Nick Nurse out, Darko Rajakovic in

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