Raps’ front-office overhaul: Part 2 – Bench


Yesterday we highlighted the hires off the court, and now here is the second and final part of our in-depth look at the new Raptors front-office. Today, Raptors Rapture takes a look at Dwane Casey’s supporting cast:

Nick Nurse

Former Team:  Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets)

Role: Head Coach

New Position: Assistant Coach

–       Spent 12 years coaching in the British Basketball League (BBL)

–       Spent the last five years coaching in the NBA D-League (NBDL), most recently winning a championship with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers

–       Has won a “Coach of the Year” award in both the BBL and the NBDL.

–       Offensive philosophy based on pushing tempo, ball movement, and a balanced attack.

Like the Raptors in general, the team’s offense was mediocre, ranking 16th in the league. Considering the type of athletes and different scoring options on the roster, it’s not surprising Raps fans were calling Casey out on a laundry list of questionable moves. This is where the Raptors hope Nick can nurse this offense into form (couldn’t resist). Nurse spent the last couple of years as a head coach for the D-League Vipers, using his team as a testing ground for their exclusive parent club, the Houston Rockets. Though his teams are typically considered as offensive powerhouses, his recent D-League title with the Vipers had to be won playing with a more gritty defensive style in the finals.

Bill Bayno

Former Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

Role: Assistant Coach (Rick Adelman)

New Position: Assistant Coach

–       Former NCAA basketball player and coach

–       Had two different tenures as assistant coach for the Trail Blazers

–       Heavy experience in coaching international players, which was key in Timberwolves’ decision to hire him

–       Responsible for developing the Wolves’ big men

The Raptors’ decision to bring in Bayno is one of the more intriguing hires because it began to make more sense as the roster finally rounded out. In past years, Bryan Colangelo would have valued Bayno’s experience coaching international players. However, Ujiri will place a premium on Bayno’s background in utilizing tough centers, versatile small forwards, and power forwards with range. His role with Minnesota included working with Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Love, Anthony Randolph, and Derrick Williams. While his tenure with Portland included Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Darius Miles, Travis Outlaw, Zach Randolph, Joel Pryzbilla, Channing Frye, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Here, he’ll have similar tools in Valanciunas, Gay, Novak, Daye, Johnson, and Hansbrough.

Jesse Mermuys

Former Team: Houston Rockets

Role: Director of Player Development, Assistant Coach (Kevin McHale)

New Position: Assistant Coach

–       Before his tenure with Houston, he spent four seasons with the Denver Nuggets as a video coordinator, advanced scout, and then an assistant coach

–       Played a role in helping Donatas Motiejunas gain a stronger core through a muscle and weight program.

Out of the entire NBA, the Houston Rockets and the Denver Nuggets have experienced the most turnover in their front office, and conveniently, a couple of them have made their way to the Raptors. The one man who has ties to both franchises is Jesse Mermuys. Dwane Casey credits Mermuys with helping James Harden develop and adjust to becoming the focal point of an offense.

Jama Mahlalela

Former/Current Team: Toronto Raptors

Role:  Director of Player Development

New Position:  Assistant Coach

–       Spent five years playing CIS basketball for UBC

–       Began tenure with Raptors in 2006 on the community development staff

–       Born in Swaziland, a country in Africa

–       Raised in Toronto

Considered quite green in regards to his NBA coaching resume, Mahlalela doesn’t have a lot to go on. But with the little experience he does have working the last two seasons as the Raps’ Director of Player Development, Mahlalela made a large enough impression on Casey to promote him. Before being named assistant coach, Mahlalela started off as a clinician for the Raptors Basketball Academy and the director of basketball operations for NBA Asia.


Regardless of the sport, when a new GM is hired, a clean sweep of the front office does not necessarily have to occur. But in the Raptors’ case, Ujiri’s desire to begin with a clean slate was practically unavoidable. Being on the same page as his boss Tim Lieweke, whom is also cleaning up house at MLSE, none of Ujiri’s moves should come as a surprise.

The Toronto Raptors want to usher in a new era, one that doesn’t resemble the losing ways of the past. To explain this team’s love affair with mediocrity, the team has resorted to finger pointing and excuses in the past. But with Ujiri’s own staff in place, the GM can just focus on proving to the city of Toronto why he’s considered one of the best.