Former Sixers assistant Ime Udoka is finalizing an agreement to become the next Celtics head coach, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday afternoon.
Udoka was on former Sixers head coach Brett Brown’s staff for the 2019-20 season and in charge of the team’s defense. When Brown was fired, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Udoka was “among the early candidates” to take his spot. The Sixers ultimately hired Doc Rivers, and Udoka took an assistant job with the Nets.
Monty Williams, another former assistant of Brown’s, has guided the Suns to a 2-0 Western Conference finals lead.
Udoka began his coaching career working for Gregg Popovich. He was with the Spurs for seven seasons before being hired by the Sixers. Under Popovich, Udoka said he was in charge of game planning for approximately eight or nine opposing teams.
With the Sixers, he aimed to implement more varied, aggressive pick-and-roll coverages, force more turnovers and optimize the team’s versatility. The Sixers were a mixed bag defensively in the 2019-20 campaign, finishing seventh in non-garbage time defensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass. With All-Defensive First Team selection Ben Simmons sidelined by a left knee injury, the Celtics’ guards and wings hurt the Sixers’ drop coverage and led Boston to a first-round series sweep.
Veteran assistant Dan Burke effectively coordinated the Sixers’ defense this season. The team was third in defensive rating outside of garbage time, and Simmons, Joel Embiid and Matisse Thybulle were All-Defensive picks.
In his lone season in Philadelphia, Udoka looked like a future head coach on the sidelines. He yelled out in-game adjustments to his defenders, shared instructions during timeouts and seemed sure of himself. His first chance at a head coaching gig will be replacing Brad Stevens, who stepped down from the bench and took over from Danny Ainge as Boston’s president of basketball operations earlier this month.
Udoka and the star-studded Nets beat the Celtics in a five-game first-round series this year, then fell to the Bucks in Round 2. Though Boston is coming off of a disappointing season and at a time of transition, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum remain talented young players for the franchise to build around.
Rivers assembled a well-credentialed staff for his first year with the Sixers. It wouldn’t be surprising if Sam Cassell or Dave Joerger took one of the NBA’s other head coaching vacancies.