Ime Udoka will be tasked with improving the Boston Celtics' chemistry after a trying 2020-21 season. Might he also help president of basketball operations Brad Stevens make a key acquisition in free agency?
After news broke Wednesday that the Celtics are finalizing an agreement with Udoka to make him the 18th head coach in franchise history, Boston.com's Tom Westerholm unearthed a 2015 story about Udoka's role in helping the Spurs land All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency while Udoka was an assistant in San Antonio.
USA TODAY's Sam Amick notes in the story that Udoka and Aldridge first developed a bond as teammates on the Portland Trail Blazers during Aldridge's rookie season. In the summer of 2015, Aldridge was deciding between the Spurs and Phoenix Suns in free agency and was set to fly to his home in Dallas after meeting with San Antonio staffers in Los Angeles.
Udoka lived in Los Angeles at the time but (literally) went the extra mile by joining Aldridge on his flight to Dallas to try to sell him on the Spurs.
"He’s like, ‘I live here (in Los Angeles) right now. I’m flying just to answer any questions that you have,’ " Aldridge recalled to Amick. "I was like, ‘Man, you’re crazy.’ I said, ‘Get off the plane.’ He said, ‘No, I’m going to answer any question that you have.’ So I’m like, ‘You don’t have to do this. Don’t do this.’ He’s like, ‘Nah, I’m not getting off.' "
Udoka's persistence paid off: He used the flight to Dallas to assuage any concerns Aldridge had about coexisting with Tim Duncan and being too offensive-minded for San Antonio's unselfish squad. Aldridge signed a four-year, $80 million contract with the Spurs shortly after.
"I told (Spurs general manager) R.C. Buford, I said, ‘Ime got the deal done,' " Aldridge added.
That Udoka was able to recruit an All-Star as an assistant coach should give Celtics fans optimism entering a pivotal offseason. Udoka was an assistant for Team USA at the 2019 FIBA World Cup -- where several C's players reportedly enjoyed their experience with him -- so perhaps he built relationships with other stars on that team as well.
The 43-year-old also was an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers (2019-20) and Brooklyn Nets (2020-21). While he may have had a stronger bond with Aldridge thanks to their days as teammates, it's not far-fetched to imagine a pending free agent who played for Udoka taking a long look at the Celtics.
If that's the case, then C's fans should be glad Udoka and the Blazers didn't take Aldridge's recent tweet to heart: