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Looking back at Pop’s opposing head coaches- Raptors edition

The Spurs coach’s tenure nearly matches the Raptor’s existence

Toronto Raptors v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

As mentioned previously, an article entitled “Pop’s Incredible Longevity” revealed that San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has coached against 307 different NBA coaches during his twenty-eight year tenure at the helm.

Since the firing of Bob Hill in 1996, Pop has consistently coached the Spurs, give or take an ejection or two. Tonight he faces the Toronto Raptors, whose franchise is only one season longer than Pop’s year count as Spurs head coach.

But unlike the Spurs, the Raptors have had eight head coaches that have faced Pop prior to tonight’s game.

Darrell Walker (1996-1998) started with the Raptors as an assistant and took over the top of the second season in Toronto after Brendan Malone coached only their inaugural year. He lasted through the All-Star Break in 1998 before resigning with an 11-38 record.

Butch Carter (1998-2000) took over for Walker seeing the Raptors through the end of the season with 5-28 record. He also went from assistant to interim to head coach, but only stayed on for an additional two seasons, just long enough to see the Raptors first winning season and playoff berth.

Ending over .500 and seeing the postseason was not enough to keep Carter employed and the reigns were passed on to Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkins.

From 2000-2003, Wilkins saw the decline in Toronto going from 47 wins to 42 and finally 24 in his third and final season.

Kevin O’Neill (2003-2004) served one lone season riddled with injury and ending in his being fired for questioning the team’s commitment to winning.

Sam Mitchell (2004-2008) was brought in as the team was rebuilding. He led the team to their first ever division title as they won the Atlantic Division in the NBA’s Eastern Conference in the 2006–07 season. As a result, Mitchell was named NBA Coach of the Year. After leading the Raptors to their first playoffs appearance in five years, Mitchell signed a four-year contract. On December 8, 2008, Mitchell was fired after a disappointing start to the season.

Jay Triano (2008-2011) had been with the Raptors as an assistant since 2002. He’d served under Wilkins, O’Neill, and Mitchell, replacing the latter in 2008 after the slow start. The remainder of his foray into head coaching did not fare well as he led the team to 25-40 with the remaining games. His second season saw them just shy of making the playoffs and his third season was derailed by Chris Bosh’s exit to Miami. The Raptors did not pick up the final year on Triano’s contract, but named him the vice-president of pro scouting, keeping him with the organization.

2011 brought in Dwane Casey, who became their longest serving head coach. Outside of the 51-31 2016-2017 season record, Casey had elevated the team every season. In Casey’s final season with the Raptors, he led the team to a franchise best 59-23, being swept in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ironically, he was fired just days after being named the NBA Coach of the Year.

His tenure was followed by Nick Nurse (2018-2023) who benefitted from the addition of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green joining the team through a trade during the summer. Nurse had been an assistant to Casey and credited with the improved offensive prowess involving the three-point shooting. In his first season as head coach, the Raptors win their first NBA Championship.

With the title came the departure of the Kawhi Leonard, and the Raptors have been attempting to gain their footing ever since.

In April of 2023, after the team failed to make the playoffs due to their loss to the Chicago Bulls in the Play-in Tournament, the Raptors announced that Nick Nurse was fired,

This afternoon, Pop faces his ninth adversary from the lone remaining Canadian NBA team (trivia: who was the other Canadian expansion team that entered with the Raptors?).

Darko Rajakovic dove into his first head coaching NBA position this season after nine seasons assisting in OKC, Phoenix, and Memphis. His last head coaching position was back in 2012-2014 with the D-League Tulsa 66ers, a precursor to the Oklahoma City Blue and his doorway into the big league as an assistant.

Who stands out the most from this list during your tenure as a Spurs diehard fan?

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