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Nick Nurse ready for challenge of getting Sixers over the hump as new head coach

Live: Sixers introduce Nick Nurse as team's new head coach
Sixers introduce Nick Nurse as team's new head coach 29:54

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Forget about the past, Sixers fans. 

The underwhelming second-round exits in the playoffs over the years vs. the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics? It's all water under the bridge. 

That was the message from Nick Nurse, the new Sixers head coach tasked with getting Philadelphia past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and ultimately to compete for an NBA championship. 

"I don't really vibrate on the frequency of the past," Nurse said during his introductory news conference at the Sixers training facility in Camden Thursday. "To me, when we get a chance to start and dig into this thing a little bit it's going to be only focused on what we're trying to do going forward."

Seated between Sixers' owner Josh Harris and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, Nurse, 55, is coming off a five-year run with the Toronto Raptors as head coach where he won the NBA Finals in the 2018-19 season and went to the playoffs three times. 

76ers Nurse Basketball
Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse, center, holds up a jersey flanked by owner Josh Harris, left, and president Daryl Morey, right, after taking questions from the media during a press conference at the NBA basketball team's facility, Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Camden, N.J. Chris Szagola / AP

Nurse, who replaced Doc Rivers, had an overall record of 227-163 in the regular season and went 25-16 in the postseason. He also earned the NBA Coach of the Year award in 2020.

Nurse cited the team's ownership, his previous working relationship with Morey coaching the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Houston Rockets' G-League team, and the players as the main reasons for taking job when he had other options like the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns. 

"This is just one step closer to a championship and we think it's an important step," Morey said. 

As the Sixers enter the Nurse era, the main assignment for the Iowa native will be unlocking the Sixers' potential, particularly the team's inability to get over the hump in the playoffs.

Just this past season, the Sixers had the Eastern Conference Finals within reach with a 3-2 series lead over the Celtics in the semifinals. But, the Sixers didn't play up to par in Games 6 and 7, which ended their season the same way it has for pretty much every year in the Joel Embiid era. 

Nurse, who beat the Sixers in the second round of playoffs in 2019 in Game 7 thanks to Kawhi Leonard's infamous buzzer-beater, believes he can unlock the Sixers and get past their second-round demons.  

"This team could be playing tonight, I think that along with some others in the Eastern Conference that probably are wishing they could throw the ball up tonight. That combination of staying healthy, the ball bouncing your way, figuring out the long grind that it is to go from the start of the playoffs to winning a title, all those things are very difficult. You gotta be able to do all of that stuff."  

Staying healthy? That will be paramount for Nurse's tenure in Philly. 

Historically, Embiid, coming off an MVP season, has broken down in the playoffs.

During Nurse's championship run with the Raptors, he had experience load-managing Leonard throughout the regular season. 

Leonard had dealt with a serious quad injury before getting dealt to Toronto, and the load management paid dividends in the playoffs, where he shined and won Finals MVP as the Raptors captured their first NBA championship in franchise history. 

Could that previous experience with Leonard help Nurse with Embiid? 

"I think it will help a lot... It is a season-long vision and plan you have to put together and then you gotta build it up and adjust and change as you go. But I think going through that with Toronto in 18-19 should be very valuable," Nurse said. 

Nurse, who met with Embiid and other top players on the team throughout the interview process, has had his battles with the Sixers superstar over the years. 

Pat Gallen and Don Bell talk Sixers hiring Nick Nurse 08:17

Nurse and the Raptors threw everything at Embiid defensively in the aforementioned duels in the postseason. 

In last year's playoff series, the two exchanged words after Nurse complained about the calls Embiid got from officials. But, it was all out of respect and Nurse is looking forward to coaching Embiid. 

"As far as building the relationship, I think he really competes and he really wants to be great," Nurse said. "It's a collaborative effort, like how do you see it? Here's how I see it. Let's figure this out and for me I just want him to have as much success as possible and translate to team success as well."

Nurse said he's talked to James Harden, who's expected to opt-out of his contract and enter free agency.

It's unclear if Harden will return. There's been rumors of him heading back to the Rockets throughout the season, and if that happens, the Sixers will need to be creative in building the roster. 

Nurse said he would be happy to bring Harden back, but what would his pitch be for the former MVP to return to Philly? 

"I think winning is always the sell," Nurse said. "Can we be good enough to win it all? That's got to be a goal of his, and if it is, then he should stay here and play with us because there's a possibility of that." 

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