All eyes are on the NBA playoffs for the Boston Celtics, and who can blame them.
They’re in the driver’s seat, leading their first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks, 3-1. The Eastern Conference semifinals are well within reach for the C’s, but as they prepare for a potential series-clincher in Game 5, they had one potential out-of-the-blue concern erased by the Houston Rockets.
On Monday, Houston hired former Ime Udoka as the Rockets next head coach, officially taking the 45-year-old off the market for good. As opposed to taking the helm for a potential Eastern Conference rival of the Celtics, which certainly would’ve made for an eventful return to Boston, Udoka will join a Rockets team that finished 14th in the West and hasn’t reached the playoffs in the last three seasons.
With that being said, the Dejountee Murray suspension wasn’t the only good news for the Celtics.
It’s clear that Udoka is capable of getting a locker room on board. That rang true in Boston when he guided the Celtics to an NBA Finals appearance before his season-long suspension from the team. And it remained the case when following his departure, various Celtics members vocalized their support for Udoka amid his search for a new job.
Early on when the Brooklyn Nets were still a respectable threat in the East, and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had them in contention for a top-seeded position, Udoka was a legitimate head coaching candidate. After Steve Nash’s time in Brooklyn ran its course, Udoka was favored as the next man up considering his previous ties to the team and several players.
But take Brooklyn out. They undeservingly had a deceiving playoff spot, which only proved the Nets to be a team that never belonged, to begin with. Udoka still could’ve made his way to the East with a shot of creating a threat for the Celtics for years to come.
Take the Toronto Raptors for example. A team that isn’t too far off from legitimate playoff contention, the Raptors remain in the market for a head coach. They parted ways with Nick Nurse shortly after enduring an expected playoff exit in the play-in tournament, but much like in 2018 when the Raptors fired Dwayne Casey, they’re still in the hunt.
Allegations aside, Udoka was a more than capable head coach and he only needed one year on the job to prove it. Therefore, having Udoka off the market removes the possibility of a sneaky play from Toronto of possibly hiring Udoka ahead of next season.
The Rockets are a headache, and that’s an understatement. Coaching that tank-producing team will age Udoka like two consecutive presidential terms in just one season with Houston’s current roster.
Yes, it’s unknown how the Rockets’ front office will approach the offseason. The market will feature several avenues to star power with the likes of Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kristaps Porzingis hitting the market. But having the awareness that Udoka will be in the West next season and could only threaten the Celtics in an unlikely NBA Finals matchup, is a sneaky win for Boston.