Jackie MacMullan: How Ime Udoka’s coaching style meets Celtics needs

The Boston Celtics wrapped up their search for their next head coach on Wednesday, apparently finalizing a deal to hire Ime Udoka to replace Brad Stevens.

The 43-year-old has been an assistant coach since 2012, when he joined Gregg Popovich’s side at the San Antonio Spurs. He was hired as an assistant for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019 and served as an assistant for the Brooklyn Nets for the 2020-21 season.

Forsberg: Udoka ticked all the boxes for the Celtics

The decision to hire Udoka was hailed by the NBA world and, more importantly, by the approval of key Celtics players. Udoka coached Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart as an assistant for Team USA during the FIBA ​​Basketball World Cup 2019.

So, aside from his brief experience coaching the Celtics line, what makes Udoka such a good fit for this team? ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan explained on Wednesday First edition.

“I think he goes really well with Brad Stevens,” MacMullan said. “When I think of Brad Stevens, I think of someone who is not a self-promoter, who likes to stay under the radar and do his job. Someone who is a defensive coach in many ways, who believes to the pillars of consistency and character All the things the San Antonio Spurs represented, an organization we know Brad Stevens openly admired, and Ime is part of that coaching tree.

“As for the players approving him, that’s wonderful, but make no mistake about it. When needed, the word on the street is Ime can be a tough guy with his players. Fair, but can be tough and Je think that’s something this Celtics team could use.”

A criticism of Stevens was that he wasn’t tough enough on his players during times when it was warranted. Apparently, Udoka has a knack for holding players accountable.

Another quality that probably appealed to the Celtics during the interview process is Udoka’s focus on defense. The Celtics have struggled throughout the 2020-21 campaign on this side of the field.

“One of the things [Udoka] was in touch almost immediately with James Harden when he came (to the Nets),” MacMullan said. And as you know, Harden came in there a bit beat up with a very public perception that wasn’t that hot, and he really calmed him down. One of his specialties that we talked about is defense. You could see the defensive commitment Harden made with this team.”

Only time will tell if Udoka is truly the right fit for Boston. As of now, though, it’s clear why he tops the Celtics’ list of worthy candidates.