The Boston Celtics have a pair of young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who should lead the recruitment pitches from here on out.
But if they need an extra hand it sounds like Ime Udoka, who the Celtics reportedly are finalizing a deal with to become the organization’s next head coach, could lend his expertise. After all, Udoka, during his time as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, helped land a big free-agent fish for Gregg Popovich’s squad.
It came in big man LaMarcus Aldridge. And, as the old wise tale indicates, it came on a flight from Los Angeles to Dallas. Udoka, who was in the Hollywood area with Popovich’s contingent, left his home base in LA just to fly home with Aldridge, his once Portland Trail Blazers teammate. He did so in hopes of answering any and all questions the four-time All-Star (at the time) had.
Udoka, as the story goes, was adamant in not getting off Alridge’s flight until all questions were answered and concerns eased. And it paid off. Udoka and the Spurs landed the now seven-time All-Star ahead of his age-30 season. (You can read the full story here, as it was dug up by Boston.com’s Tom Westerholm on Wednesday.)
“I told (Spurs general manager) R.C. Buford, I said, ‘Ime got the deal done,’ ” Alridge told USA Today before the 2015-16 season, the first of his four-year deal. “Pop was very important to me, but Ime put in a lot of work on that.”
Perhaps Udoka, 43, now can do much of the same for the Celtics. Boston, after all, gained financial flexibility with last week’s trade of Kemba Walker, and now could complement Tatum and Brown with another star in the near future.
Here are some other takeaways following Wednesday’s news:
— The Celtics made sure the reported hire would go over well with those who mattered most.
Boston reportedly consulted with three Celtics — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart — before making Udoka an offer. It appears all three took kindly to the news as Udoka was the candidate those three wanted.
“Udoka is the guy their main guys wanted and Stevens got him before anyone else could,” a source told Yahoo! Sports’ Keith Smith.
— What were some of the biggest factors the Celtics liked about Udoka?
Christopher Gasper of WCVB-TV reported the Celtics thought highly of him because of his “passion for the game” and his “compassion for the players.”
— Wednesday’s reported hiring marked the first head coaching vacancy to be filled. And it’s an underlying reason why Celtics fans should be more optimistic with the move.
Essentially, while you can argue if the Celtics hired the best man for the job, you can’t argue they didn’t get who they wanted. They did. If Boston lost out of their top candidate due said candidate accepting a job with another team, well, that wouldn’t have went over well in the public eye.
— When Udoka officially starts the job, he can expect full support from Brad Stevens.
— Rudy Gay offered a positive player perspective on Udoka, who served as an assistant on the Spurs staff during Gay’s first two seasons in San Antonio.
“He’s got the perfect balance,” Gay told NBA writer Jeff Goodman. “He’ll laugh and joke, but knows how to be serious. A lot of assistants tell you what you want to hear. Ime will give it straight to you.”
— Gay isn’t the only to have thrown some praise at Udoka, either. More of the same has been offered from Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who Udoka worked under during his first seven seasons in the league.
“He exudes a confidence and a comfort in his own skin where people just gravitate to him,” Popovich said back in 2015 in an ESPN.com story about up-and-coming coaching prospects.
— ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski indicated those in the final running for Boston’s position.
Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham and Los Angeles Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups had multiple interviews with the Celtics before Boston opted for Udoka.