NBA Finals: Get Right to the Title Point

The journey to a championship is usually hard work. It takes many coaches years of building their program, their style, their way to finally grab that brass ring. Some never get there. Others reach it after a lifetime of opportunity. In the NBA, this description is appropriate for some. There are those, however, that don't want to waste any time at all.

The Raptors are on the precipice. Monday night, they stood one win away from Canada's ... CANADA'S ... first NBA championship. After years of attempts, multiple factors came together to help guide Toronto to this position.

LeBron James finally decided to bask in that SoCal glow, heading to the Western Conference. The Raptors organization made a move to obtain their own Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard. The move, though, that many will say is the most important was at the head of the bench.

Personally, I would have loved to see Dwayne Casey leading this squad to the final goal. He helped Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan grow into all-star-caliber players. He developed a bench that is arguably the deepest in the Association. But, frankly, he wasn't good enough. Maybe that characterization will change in Detroit, but it didn't north of the border.

Nick Nurse has taken this slightly revamped roster and lifted the franchise to a level it has never experienced. If he can grab the Larry O'Brien Trophy, he wouldn't be the first head coach to slide into a good situation and better it. Heck, he'd actually keep the last half-decade going as is.

The man sitting on the other bench knows all too well about bringing "great" to "already" good. Mark Jackson was the man that started referring to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as the "Splash Brothers." Jackson wasn't in his broadcast role at ESPN. He was leading Golden State in his first (and, to this date, only) head coaching position.

After Jackson was fired by the Warriors, the organization decided to bring in Steve Kerr (another former player without coaching experience). The move was skepticized by many (including myself). Kerr, though, made all of us eat crow as he ended his rookie season by leading the franchise to its first title in 40 years. The next season, the trend headed east.

It didn't even take an offseason move for Cleveland when they lifted their first trophy in 2016. David Blatt's season-and-a-half journey by Lake Erie wasn't smooth ... at all. Even though he led the Cavaliers to the 2015 Finals and was leading the East the next season, Blatt didn't have the chance to return to the ultimate series. Assistant Tyronn Lue stepped into the role, guiding the team to championship No. 1.

This last five-year span isn't just a trend. It merely continues a tradition that the NBA has seen over its modern-era history. There are several examples of head coaching changes that turned a franchise's fortunes from silvery postseason candidate to golden glory.

Phil Jackson has eleven titles as a head coach, and it didn't take long to make a championship pedigree out of the teams he took over. In Chicago, it was only a two-season wait to turn the Doug Collins-led Bulls from playoff also-ran to the beginnings of the team of the 1990s. The wait was even shorter once he arrived in L.A. The following June after settling a coaching quagmire, Jackson returned the Lakers to the top of the NBA heap.

The other marquee franchise of the league went through this situation as well. Bill Fitch guided Larry Bird and the 1980-1981 Celtics to the title. The next two years, though, Boston kept taking steps backwards. This led to former player K.C. Jones getting his chance in 1983-1984. By season's end, the organization celebrated its 14th championship.

The Portland Trail Blazers hold one claim to the world title. It came in the 1976-1997 season, as Bill Walton finally was able to bring his winning ways at UCLA to the Pacific Northwest. That team was led by the late Dr. Jack Ramsey. It was his first year in the role, and he only replaced one of the winningest coaches in league history (Lenny Wilkens).

By the way, there are situations as chaotic as one that occurred in Cleveland recently. All you have to do is look back to the Lakers, where twice in a three-season span, the franchise switched coaches and wound up winning it all. In 1979, Paul Westhead relieved Jack McKinney. In 1981, Pat Riley relieved Westhead. And there are other examples of quick turnarounds or upgrades. Dick Motta, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Gregg Popovich all won championships within their first three seasons of taking over the helm.

There's no matter whether these coaches had a world of experience behind them (like Ramsey, Motta, and, eventually in Seattle, Wilkens) or if they were fresh faces in the position. The common thread between these people is that their changes led to pretty instantaneous success. It appears that Nick Nurse will join the list in short time, joining a tradition as woven into the game as anything on the court of play.

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