Rockets Hire Emi Udoka: Is Former Celtics Coach The Answer For Houston?

Looks like the search for a head coach is over.

On Monday, two weeks after the firing of former head coach Stephen Silas, the athlete It has been reported that the Houston Rockets have agreed to terms with free agent coach Im Odoka.

Udoka’s reported rental comes at a pivotal moment in Houston’s rebuilding. Over the past three seasons, the Rockets have been arguably the worst team in the league, showing young talent in spurts but nothing close to a cohesive unit capable of sustained long-term development. The Rockets stressed that their next coach will be a legitimate name for the late, and with Udoka out of the NBA Finals in 2022, there’s real acumen in coaching there.

Still, it will pose important questions for Udoka, who was suspended by the Boston Celtics prior to the 2022-23 season due to multiple team violations. At some point, Udoka will have to discuss his suspension and the new opportunity Houston has given him.

To better understand what Udoka is and his coaching style and methods, we spoke with Jared Weiss, who covers the Celtics in the athlete.

What best describes Im Odoka’s coaching style?

responsible. Udoka joined the Celtics at a pivotal point for the franchise. Boston was down a year after a series of Eastern Conference Finals and was desperate for some kind of cultural reset. They had the talent to be competitive and take the next step; They just needed more players, experienced captains, and the emergence of their best players.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens knew the best way to give Odoka the tools he needed, as Stephens was the former head coach trying to make things work. Stevens knocked Al Horford and Derrick White deals out of the park, Marcus Smart found a way to thrive with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and Udoka’s master plan worked.

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They had one of the most remarkable stretches in modern NBA history, going from a club averaging . 500 for more than half of the 2021-22 season to one of the most dominant teams in the East in the past decade. They run out of steam in the finals because the Warriors’ experience made them the better team, but Odoka showed how much of an impact it can be when everyone on a team buys in.

The problem is, you can’t praise him for all of these things without realizing the damage he did with an inappropriate workplace relationship that cost him his job and upended the franchise. Udoka’s whole trick was that he would do whatever he wanted and whatever it took as a trainer, never being afraid to publicly call out his comrades and push them as far as possible.

This extended to him breaking a very clear rule with disastrous consequences. The big question is will it change the way it works and the way it is perceived?

Former Celtics coach Im Odoka with Marcus Smart. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

How much of Boston’s success during the 2022 Finals – particularly in the second half of the season – should he be credited?

The reputation he gained from last season as a cultural beacon and shrewd tactician is money. He’s shown the patience to break bad habits early on and experiment when things don’t work, all while sticking to his principles. He was the foundation of this team’s identity during the first half of the season as everyone was trying to figure things out. So when everything fell into place, they took to the races.

From an X and O standpoint, he reshaped the offense around the three-level scoring of Tatum and Brown and Smart’s effective catch-and-roll playmaking. Horford returned in a different role as a groundsitter, rather than the big dribbling role that was the fulcrum of the Celtics’ offense during his heyday under Stevens. He earned his Robert Williams III when he was healthy and blossomed into a multi-faceted athlete. This allowed the Celtics to run more action out of the post and play with intense runs, using their athleticism and shot making as advantages.

On defense, he had them convert across the board, which was a disaster to begin with. It took them maybe a month to figure this out and things were getting better. Then he realigned the scheme to have Williams roam the baseline as a shot blocker in the zones, and they turned into an historically great defense. Udoka took a lot of the stuff Stevens created and helped propel it into the next natural evolution. It happened faster than anyone expected.

Between players like Smart, Brown, and Tatum, the Celtics haven’t been short on unique personalities. In your opinion, did Udoka gain the respect of the locker room? How to ensure accountability among his players?

This is really at the heart of what made Udoka successful. These were his three best players, and they were all still trying to escape after years together. It wasn’t all right on the court because Smart had been playing too long in the wrong position and the Jays were just starting to close in on their primes and weren’t ready to run a team.

The first breakthrough came in November 2021 after a massive fourth quarter meltdown against Chicago. Smart got on stage and discussed how he can only do so much without the ball and that the Jays don’t want to pass the ball when teams force them to do so. Although he went on to say that they are continuing to learn how to become game makers, that sentence sparked a firestorm.

Udoka made Smart, Tatum, and Brown sit together and split it up, which eventually helped them all get on the same page. Smart took more control of the offense, Brown and Tatum continued to develop as playmakers, and the crunch time offense steadily improved.

This was the moment when Udoka proved that he would hold everyone accountable, but also enable his players to do the same. He loved talking about his teammates and opponents and creating the fun and competitive environment the team needed. Especially with Horford there, who balances the Smart’s bold driving style with his reputation for unpretentious leadership by example, and Derek White has come to be the perfect complementary conductor on both ends, all of which fit together.

What is his stance on development and how has he combined young players with older and experienced veterans?

Udoka’s approach to his only season in Boston worked well because he had the right mix of prospects, emerging stars, and veterans. Rob Williams, Grant Williams and Peyton Pritchard have all taken steps forward in their careers. Both Tatum and Brown have taken great leaps to the next level. Horford, Smart and White adjusted their roles and thrived.

It’s shown the ability to empower players who are ready and bring in those who aren’t quite there yet, all while satisfying veterans around the edges of the core spin. A lot of that was on Stevens, who traded Josh Richardson and Dennis Schroeder for White and Daniel Theiss. Rafael Stone is going to have to give Odoka some experienced players and veteran leaders if Houston is going to start advancing from the NBA basement.

The only thing they can count on is that Udoka will set everyone’s feet in the fire and quickly determine who has the power to lead and who needs to go. It is likely that he will help Jalen Green grow as a responsible scorer. He helped Grant Williams become one of the best 3-and-3 bench players in the league last season, so imagine what he could do with Jabari Smith Jr.

I could go on and on, but there are roughly 50 prospects on this list who need development. Who knows who will be left once nearly $60 million in cap space is used up. If they are set, Udoka will whip them into shape. If these guys aren’t defending, if they’re taking early isolation shots around the clock, it’s going to tear them apart. Some of them will thrive. They just might not all survive.

Kevin Porter Jr., Galen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

How would he be able to increase the skills of Jalen Green, Jabbari Smith Jr., and Alberin Shinjun?

It would really help Şengün unlock his playmaking potential, especially considering how well Domantas Sabonis has managed the Kings offense with De’Aaron Fox this year. Udoka did a great job of nudging Tatum and Smart into other dangerous playmakers by creating cross-country matches and building spacing arrangements that allowed them to draw crowds and pass traps with an advantage.

It appears Green needs someone to help him slow down and reframe how he values ​​scoring and playmaking in the NBA. The tools are at his disposal, and he has a few more years before we need to judge him seriously. It will be fascinating to see if Udoka’s tactics with his Boston superstars work for a 21-year-old with limitless potential.

Same goes for Kevin Porter Jr.. If he was going to become a base guard and trusted member of the organization, Udoka would test that early on. If there’s anyone who could be part of the cultural reckoning we’d expect Udoka to bring if he were set, it’s the obvious target. This past year was a huge step towards stabilizing his NBA career. Either it would shut down under someone like Udoka, or Porter would start over somewhere else.

Then there’s Smith, who can challenge Udoka to be a fierce defender. I can see Houston’s identity attached to the high-pressure switch with Şengün on the pick-and-roll and Smith trolling the baseline as Rob Williams. Just feed his game from this end and become a transitional scorer because he can’t dribble yet. Seems like a recipe for improvement and a way to feed his mentality into his skill.

This team has all the skills. It just does not contain the intangibles. This is where a coach like Udoka thrives.

In the game, what is the cooperation between Udoka and his assistants? How does it stack up with on-the-fly modifications or adapt to what the game has to offer?

This would be a great component of this situation. Udoka brought what seemed like half of Portland’s diaspora basketball player to work on his coaching staff last year. Assistant Damon Stoudamire left for the Georgia Tech job and former Spurs teammate Will Hardy took over the Jazz.

Would he try to steal anyone from Joe Mazzola’s seat if he was hired? Where will he care now after bringing in the Portland Nationals and former Spurs staff?

Udoka was good at getting to know the assistants who made important exploratory assessments or suggested modifications to the game plan. Mazzola appeared during the Conference Finals in 2022, which is the clearest sign that he could be Udoka’s replacement in the fall.

One of the things I loved about Udoka’s mods is that he doesn’t overreact most of the time when things don’t go his way and sticks to schematic principles. But he was willing to drop that halftime stuff and switch coverage of pick-and-roll or one-on-one matches. It seemed bold at the time when it started as a big double from the start with Horford and Rob Williams, but the league has continued to shift in that direction a bit after seeing how well it worked in Boston, Golden State and Cleveland. After the franchise has spent so much time morphing into a pick-and-run offense, it’s been running more ghost screens and follow-up post-plays, confident that its stars can make those reads more sophisticated.

What are some of Udoka’s shortcomings or areas he could improve on?

We can’t have a serious discussion about his tenure without touching on his workplace relationship and his commentary. Assuming this hire crosses the finish line, the suspense leading up to his introductory press conference will be intense as we wait to see if he and the Rockets address what happened with the Celtics.

Udoka’s transparency and accountability have been his greatest attributes as a Boston coach, so it will be interesting to see how he handles that.

Then in court, his transparency had some missteps, of course. On a team full of youngsters who may not realize they haven’t won yet, his Boston style was probably too heavy-handed. The Rockets would be wise to bring in some veterans to help their next coach’s program and mindset. If he gets the job, Udoka can’t fix everything on his own, but he’s the right guy on the bench to get his team locked up and lined up.

(Top photo: Troy Wayrynen/USA Today)

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