The Toronto Raptors canned Nick Nurse and eschewed names like Jordi Fernandez as a replacement in the offseason before settling on former Memphis Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic as the team’s next head coach. To say that Rajakovic’s first season in Toronto is pivotal would be an understatement.
Coming home with a Coach of the Year title would represent an absolute home run hire from Ujiri. While this award is often won by a coach who is competing for a championship, Rajakovic might be able to sneak into the race if he improved the Raptors substantially.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Mark Daigneault is the favorite to win coach of the year at +650 odds, with Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Boston’s Joe Mazzulla behind him at +800. Nuggets champion Mike Malone is a cool +850, while Rajakovic stands at an insane +4500.
The general pessimism around the Raptors has led many prognosticators to assume there exists no chance in which Rajakovic could lead the Raptors to any sort of postseason success. If he wins enough to shut down all those doubters, some silverware might be coming.
Can Toronto Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic win Coach of the Year?
If Rajakovic can take a 41-win team and get them close to 50 victories, he should at least get some COTY talk. Daigneault is trying to do essentially the same thing in Oklahoma City, and he has emerged as the favorite.
If Rajakovic is to accomplish this feat, two things need to happen. First and foremost, Scottie Barnes needs to be empowered and improved upon. If he starts to show he can be a primary or secondary option for Toronto, the team’s new-look offense could vault them back into the postseason tier.
Second, Rajakovic needs to get the bench performing at a level approximating the NBA average. With top pick Gradey Dick, Dennis Schroder, and Jalen McDaniels all coming to town this season, a coach that helped turn the Grizzlies into one of the deepest teams in the league shouldn’t have too much of an issue with this.
Rajakovic and the Raptors could be a match made in heaven if everything works out well. He has some major challenges to overcome after Nick Nurse handed him a smoldering crater with bad vibes, but Ujiri wouldn’t hire Rajakovic if he didn’t think he had the skills necessary to pull this off.