Brad Stevens certainly wasted no time in finding his successor.
The Boston Celtics are in the process of finalizing a deal with former Brooklyn Nets assistant Ime Udoka to become Boston’s new head coach after Stevens was moved to the front office as president of basketball operations a couple of weeks ago, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
This would seem to finalize the shuffle that was going on atop the Celtics’ hierarchy over the past few weeks. Stevens (the former head coach) has replaced Boston’s departed longtime top executive Danny Ainge as president of basketball operations, and now, Udoka has replaced Stevens on the sideline.
It would seem that Udoka’s role as an assistant on the 2019 USA Fiba World Cup coaching staff—which also included Gregg Poppovich (head coach), Steve Kerr, Jay Wright (two-time NCAA champ with Villanova), and Lloyd Pierce—during which the Celtics’ most important trio—Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart—clearly had a very good experience with Udoka.
All three of those players gave strong recommendations for the Nigerian-American as the new bench boss after Stevens switched lanes and joined the team’s front office. When the top three players on the team have your back, it’s hard to imagine an intelligent front office refuting their recommendations, and that’s exactly what happened here.
This follows a trend that has been creeping up in the NBA recently where we see players—who are the reason for the NBA’s popularity and profitability—having more and more say in the hiring of members of the brass as well as the guys they’re going to be dealing with on a daily basis in both practices and games. This development is a welcome one, make no mistake.
Before he was a coach—as is the case with most guys roaming the sidelines in the association—Udoka was a player. And, unlike most of his current coaching peers, Udoka was good enough on the hardwood to be a proper NBA player. It did take the Portland native a few years to get there, however.
After graduating from Portland State in 2000, Udoka joined the International Basketball Association (which lasted from 1995-2001) for a season. He then moved to Argentina for about a year before he joined the NBA’s burgeoning Development League or D-League (the precursor to the current G-League) as part of the Charleston Lowgators (who became the Florida Flame).
Udoka got a four-game call up to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 where he was able to play next to Shaq and Kobe before going back to the D-League with the Fort Worth Flyers for a couple of seasons. In 2006, he got a call-up to the New York Knicks, for whom he played eight games. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for Udoka to grab the attention of NBA front offices.
The next season he signed with the Portland Trail Blazers, for whom he started 75 games that season, averaging 8.3 points. After that, he spent three of his final four seasons in the league playing for Poppovich on the Spurs, which was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
After Udoka called it a career on the hardwood in 2012, Pop wasted no time bringing Udoka back to be a part of his staff in San Antonio. Udoka would serve under Pop from 2012 to 2019, winning a championship in 2014.
During his time in Texas, Udoka got the chance to coach and work with legends such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard. After seven years under Pop’s wing, Udoka decided to join Brett Brown’s staff with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019.
Poppovich—who is not known for long-winded diatribes—has actually been one of Udoka’s biggest proponents for some time. In an ESPN interview with Kevin Arnovitz in 2015, the legendary coach spoke glowingly and at length about his young peer.
“He exudes a confidence and a comfort in his own skin where people just gravitate to him,” Popovich said during the Arnovitz interview. “He’s a fundamentally sound teacher because he’s comfortable with himself, he knows the material and players read it. Oftentimes, I’ll say, ‘Ime, can you go talk to so-and-so? Go talk to Patty Mills, go talk to Timmy, go talk to Kawhi.’ And he’ll do it better than I would do it—and I’m not blowing smoke.
“The only thing I don’t like about him is that he doesn’t drink, so I can’t enjoy a glass of wine with him,” Poppovich added, jokingly. “He’s really boring at dinner.”
Those kind words from arguably the greatest coach in NBA history do not come lightly, and the fact that the two worked together for over a decade should inspire confidence in anyone considering Udoka for any kind of position anywhere.
Udoka most recently served as an assistant on Steve Nash’s Brooklyn Nets staff for the 2020-2021 season, during which the team lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Milwaukee Bucks, who are now -8.5 NBA point spread favorites on tolerable -111 NBA odds for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.
Los Angeles Clippers assistant and NBA legend Chauncey Billups as well as Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham were also strongly considered by the C’s, with both being looked at as top candidates who came in for multiple interviews during the process, sources told ESPN’s Wojnarowski.