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Ime Udoka to become coach of Celtics. Here’s how and why the deal came together

Ime Udoka (left) is part of the Gregg Popovich coaching tree.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Since being promoted to replace Danny Ainge as the Celtics’ president of basketball operations three weeks ago, Brad Stevens has worked feverishly to find his replacement as head coach. He eventually whittled a long list of candidates to a select few, and then one began to emerge.

League sources said that Stevens had numerous conversations with Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Ime Udoka. On Sunday, sources said, a Celtics contingent that included Stevens, team owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca, and vice president of player development Allison Feaster conducted the final interview with Udoka in New York.

Udoka, a longtime NBA assistant, impressed the Celtics with his knowledge of the game, his attention to detail, and his passion to win. And on Wednesday, league sources said, he was hired as the Celtics’ next head coach.


The hiring has not been officially announced yet so the Celtics declined to comment, but a news conference is expected on Monday.

According to a league source, Udoka was intrigued by the opportunity to work for Stevens, who developed a reputation as one of the game’s brightest minds during his eight-year run as Celtics coach, in part because Stevens would understand Udoka’s role as well as anyone. Also, Udoka was excited about the chance to guide a roster that included two young All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Brown, Tatum, and Marcus Smart played for Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, when Udoka was an assistant coach for the team. Sources said Celtics players, particularly Tatum and Brown, were consulted about this hire, and that they were pleased with the decision.

Stevens said last week that he has spoken to Ainge frequently since assuming his post, and Ainge, who was the team’s president of basketball operations for 18 years, was asked for his input on this hire, too, sources said.


Danny Ainge was asked for his input on the hiring of Ime Udoka.Auerbach Center

As the Celtics contacted people around the NBA to learn more about Udoka, the reviews were consistently glowing. He is known for his work ethic, and the Celtics are hopeful that as a former player he will be able to relate to this young team. One source said that during Udoka’s previous stops as an assistant, he would often go out to dinner with players to find out more about them.

Udoka, 43, spent seven years as an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio before joining the 76ers staff in the 2019-20 season in place of Monty Williams, who left to coach the Suns. This year, Udoka was hired as an assistant under Brooklyn coach Steve Nash. A league source said this pedigree, particularly the extensive experience working with Popovich, was viewed as a major benefit.

Udoka grew up in Oregon and attended high school in Portland. He played college basketball at the University of San Francisco before transferring to Portland State. He went undrafted in 2000 and played independent basketball before joining the NBDL — now known as the G League — in its second season.

He went on to play for the Lakers, Knicks, Trail Blazers, and Spurs over parts of seven seasons, averaging 5.2 points per game. He spent his last four years with San Antonio, and parlayed that into a role on the team’s coaching staff.


In 2019, Udoka interviewed for the Cavaliers head coaching job, but that ultimately went to former Michigan coach John Beilein.

Now Udoka is getting his chance. He will soon assemble the rest of his coaching staff.

Typically, teams in the Las Vegas summer league are guided by assistants, but first-year head coaches sometimes take the reins. It’s not immediately known whether Udoka will guide Boston’s squad in August.

He is the first hire by Stevens, who has jumped headfirst into his new role. On Friday, Stevens completed a deal in which he traded former All-Star Kemba Walker and Boston’s first-round pick to the Thunder in exchange for former Celtics forward Al Horford and center Moses Brown.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.