When Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens was whittling his list of coaching candidates last month he sought input from Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart.
Stevens asked them what he could have done better as a coach, and he asked what qualities they would want to see in his replacement. Tatum, for one, mostly put his trust in Stevens and the rest of Boston’s decision-makers.
“All the guys that I guess were finalists, I liked all of them,” Tatum said Wednesday following a USA Basketball practice in Las Vegas. “I had somewhat of a relationship with all of them, and I basically told him, ‘You can’t go wrong.’ It’s their job in the front office to make the decisions, and it’s my job to go out there and play. That’s basically it.”
Boston’s brass ultimately selected Ime Udoka, who previously worked as an assistant with the Spurs, 76ers, and Nets. When Tatum played for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup in 2019, Udoka served as an assistant coach.
Now, Tatum is an Olympian and Udoka is back on the bench, and it will give Boston’s new coach and its franchise cornerstone a chance to create an even deeper connection at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I got to know him a little bit [in 2019],” Tatum said. “I think what stands out the most is — I guess when you’re coming up as an assistant, when you get your first head coach job, you’re driven and motivated. From the conversations I’ve had with him since he’s got the job, I can just tell he’s really, really excited. It’s going to be fun, and we’re going to try to accomplish something big.”
Udoka was tabbed for the national team role because his former boss in San Antonio, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, is also Team USA’s head coach. Udoka remained on the staff for these Olympics even though he left San Antonio two years ago.
Stevens consulted with Popovich before hiring Udoka and received glowing reviews. And this week Popovich expanded on Udoka’s strengths.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled,” he said. “The guy is a stalwart. People overemphasize O’s-and-X’s in the league. All the coaches know their O’s-and-X’s. It’s basketball. It’s not analytical geometry or something like that. That stuff’s not tough. But to understand how to get the most out of people, to develop relationships with players, to make people accountable, to make them want to play for you are really the keys. He’s got all of that. He’s really a gifted communicator.
“With him, less is more. He’s not a talker. He’s a communicator. More than anything, he’s genuine. You know exactly what you’re getting. I’m sure that’s what Brad Stevens felt when he interviewed him for the first time.”
Tatum said he is eager to start working with Udoka, but on Wednesday he also acknowledged the flurry of change within the organization over the past month. Danny Ainge retired after serving as the team’s president of basketball operations for 18 years and was replaced by Stevens. And soon after taking on this new role, Stevens orchestrated a blockbuster trade in which former All-Star Kemba Walker was traded to the Thunder in exchange for former Boston big man Al Horford.
“It was a lot at first with all the changes, especially with the coaches and front office,” Tatum said. “But change is good sometimes. I’m excited about our new coach, Ime. Obviously, Kemba, that’s my man. You hate to see one of your close guys go, but I wish nothing but the best for him wherever he goes. I’m happy to have Al back. He looked better in green anyway.”
Damon Stoudamire joins Celtics coaching staff
Pacific University head coach and former NBA standout Damon Stoudamire will join Udoka’s coaching staff, a league source confirmed Wednesday.
Stoudamire and Udoka both grew up in Portland, Ore., and were teammates with the Spurs in 2008. Stoudamire, the 1995 NBA rookie of the year, worked as an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies before transitioning to the college game. He was an assistant with the University of Memphis and Arizona before being hired as Pacific’s head coach in 2016.
Stoudamire guided Pacific to a 23-10 record in 2019-20, and the team went 9-9 during this past season that was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Udoka’s coaching staff is now beginning to take shape. Sources confirmed last week that longtime Spurs assistant Will Hardy will join the Celtics as Udoka’s top assistant, and a league source said Boston assistant Joe Mazzulla is expected to be retained.
Former Celtics assistants Jay Larranaga and Jamie Young told the Globe last week their contracts would not be renewed, and former assistant coach Jerome Allen has accepted a position with the Pistons.