The Houston Rockets are becoming the next landing spot for a former Boston Celtics coach who exceeded expectations in his first season with the team but was let go during a scandal.
On Monday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Ime Udoka has agreed to a deal with Houston to become the team’s next head coach, succeeding Stephen Silas, whose deal was not renewed after this past season.
Udoka, 45, made his NBA head coaching debut with Boston during the 2022-2023 season, which ended with the team two wins away from an NBA championship.
Rockets and Udoka moved fairly quickly toward each other after initial meeting, sources tell ESPN. Udoka and GM Rafael Stone kept talking on job. Both sides had some strong options in the marketplace but a deal got done in the last 24 hours to land Udoka with the Rockets. Young… https://t.co/fRPG3Wwy2Y
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 24, 2023
In the months after the Finals, Udoka’s name was mixed in controversy after reports that he had an inappropriate workplace relationship with a woman on the team’s staff. He was suspended for a full year by the Celtics for violations of team policy and then fired deep into the current season.
The Rockets probed the circumstances around Udoka’s departure from the Celtics with the team and league office, sources told Wojnarowski.
“Rockets and Udoka moved fairly quickly toward each other after initial meeting, sources tell ESPN. Udoka and GM Rafael Stone kept talking on the job. Both sides had some strong options in the marketplace but a deal got done in the last 24 hours to land Udoka with the Rockets,” Wojnarowski tweeted.
Udoka is due to inherit a team that boasts a young but promising lineup that includes Jabari Smith Jr., Jalen Green, and Alperen Sengun, who were three of the team’s first-round picks in the last two drafts.
The Rockets also hold a high chance of winning the first-overall pick in this June’s NBA Draft, which is headlined by coveted French teen phenom, Victor Wembanyama.
What Udoka brings
Udoka’s ability to galvanize a locker room and command respect were an immense part of his appeal to the Rockets and the marketplace. Udoka led the Celtics to a 51-31 record and became one of five rookie head coaches to reach the NBA Finals in the past 25 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Udoka helped the Celtics to the league’s No. 1 defensive efficiency a season ago and a top-10 finish in offense. The Rockets ranked in the bottom five of both categories in a season that saw them go 22-60.
The hiring comes nearly three months after the Celtics suspended and dismissed Udoka for an improper workplace relationship, a situation the Rockets probed with the league office and with the Celtics, among others, before making the job offer, sources told ESPN.
An independent law firm probe into Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate before the start of an improper workplace relationship with her, an element that significantly factored into the severity of Udoka’s initial suspension, sources told ESPN in September.
Those investigative findings — which described Udoka’s verbiage as especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contributed to what became an impossible pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach. The power dynamic associated with a superior’s improper relationship with a staff member was the primary finding and policy violation cited in the law firm’s report, which was commissioned by the Celtics and completed in September, sources said.