Ime Udoka will feature in his first NBA Finals as a head coach, and three teams in the Eastern Conference could be scratching their heads and wondering why they didn’t hire him.
Detroit, Indiana, and Cleveland
Udoka is a product of Gregg Popovich’s coaching tree. He was an assistant coach for San Antonio Spurs from 2012 to 2019. Ime then worked as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets before becoming the head coach of the Boston Celtics this season. With the way his team overachieved this year, other teams that turned him down for sure are left with what-could-have-beens.
The former Spurs player and coach revealed some teams that passed up on him and clarified that although it hurt, the wait to become a head coach was worth it.
“The one thing I would say is the disappointment of coming in second a few years really hurt. But if you told me I’d have to wait for Boston and get [bypassed] by some of the ones that I got beat out on, it’s a no-brainer for me. Detroit, Indiana, Cleveland. I can go down the list. That was tough because I believe I was ready. But I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of an organization that’s pushing for winning and championships.”
Ime Udoka, Yahoo Sports
Maybe, he had to undergo those disappointments to improve himself and keep the fire inside him burning. Boston took a chance on him after Brad Stevens was elevated as president of basketball operations. Filling in Stevens’ shoes was no easy task, but Udoka exceeded every expectation of him this year.
What happened to teams that passed up on him
J. B. Bickerstaff coaches the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the team made strides this season under him. However, injuries to key players affected their campaign. Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers hired Rick Carlisle. They missed the playoffs in the last two years and got bounced out in the first round in the previous five years. Dwayne Casey now coaches the Detroit Pistons. They missed the postseason five times in the last six years. Would it have changed their fortunes if any of these teams hired Ime Udoka? We couldn’t say for a certain degree, but the first-year coach is a master motivator who preaches defense and gets his star players to commit to the system.
Everyone thought the Celtics would implode, especially in the early season when the team wallowed in mediocrity. There were rumors that Jaylen Brown was on his way out. There were discussions if Brown and Tatum could deliver a title for the city. The Celtics turned it up in 2022, and they never looked back. The team faced the Brooklyn Nets, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Miami Heat, three teams that eliminated them in recent playoffs, but they got their revenge this time, led by their rookie coach.
The Finals are a different beast. The Golden State Warriors are on a different level. They’ve been in the Finals before; the Celtics squad has not. But if Ime Udoka needs the inspiration to keep the fire burning in him, he knows winning it all would be the best response to all those teams who passed him up.