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Ime Udoka determined to break Celtics of some bad habits from last season

Jayson Tatum eyes a referee before getting a technical foul against the Oklahoma City Thunder at TD Garden last season.
Jayson Tatum eyes a referee before getting a technical foul against the Oklahoma City Thunder at TD Garden last season.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

BRIGHTON — Ime Udoka has noticed several habits from last year’s Celtics team that he wants to discontinue in his first season as head coach.

He noticed there was too much one-on-one play after the first offensive action was derailed by opposing defenses. He noticed the Celtics weren’t always attentive and engaged on defense, and that the team may have spent too much time complaining about officiating.

That’s going to stop, he said.

The new coach is laying down new rules to his players, and one of them is to let him handle the officials. Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum finished 11th in the NBA in scoring last season but just 27th in free throw attempts per game and he consistently barks at officials after non-calls.

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“I’ve stressed that to our team,” Udoka said after Wednesday’s practice at the Auerbach Center. “We got a little chippy in practice, guys getting after it and I said, ‘Let me [argue with] the refs. You guys play through plays and move on to the next thing and let me be the guy who complains to the ref.’ That’s not the team we want to be and that’s not who I am so I don’t want the team to start crying about every call.”

The complaining didn’t help last year’s Celtics. They were 25th in the NBA in free throw attempts.

“I told them to play through things from Day 1 in camp,” Udoka said. “We’re not going to be a team that cries the whole time. That’s definitely not me.”

Jayson Tatum couldn't hide his displeasure with a call in an April contest against the Nets.
Jayson Tatum couldn't hide his displeasure with a call in an April contest against the Nets.Sarah Stier/Getty

Udoka said his in-game coaching style will have him involved in all facets but also delegating responsibility among his staff.

“I like to coach hands on, on the fly in the games,” he said. “I’ve got to be up there and be vocal with the players. I put on my coaching staff to relay messages. I like to give the players freedom to be coaches out there. I feel Dennis [Schröder] and Marcus [Smart] have done a great job throughout camp. I’m not trying to come down there and call plays but I’ll get up and mention a coverage or call out a play if I have to.”

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Shrewd start

Schröder came off the bench in the Celtics’ preseason-opening win against the Orlando Magic, but was mostly a starter during his years with Atlanta and Los Angeles Lakers. He was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting in 2019-20 with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Schröder said he is open to either role with the Celtics.

“At the end of the game, I’m on the court [that’s what matters],” he said. “It’s always great to be a starter and I think everybody knows that as well that I’m a starter. But right here, right now, whatever coach needs me to do, I’ll do it. I’m a winning person; I’m a team player. So whatever coach is telling me to do and whatever the group thinks is the best, we’re just going to figure that out and then everybody just got to know what situation they’re in and bring everything they’ve got.”

Dennis Schroder is set to start his first season with the Celtics.
Dennis Schroder is set to start his first season with the Celtics.Maddie Meyer/Getty

In two seasons as mostly a reserve for the Thunder, Schröder averaged 17 points, 44 percent shooting, and 4.1 assists in 30 minutes.

“It was a lot of freedom,” he said. “I can just play and go out there and not thinking about nothing, good things are going to happen. I think that’s for a lot of players in this league. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, OKC was a great few years I had there and I want to carry that on here.”

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Evaluating rotations

Expect Udoka to clear his bench during preseason games and try different rotations to determine their effectiveness. But head coaches generally don’t give more than nine guys regular minutes, so Udoka has some decisions to make before the Oct. 20 opener against the New York Knicks.

“We feel comfortable with 10 to 12 of our guys, it’s just a matter of game-by-game scheme and coverage and who we’re guarding and who we’re playing,” he said. “We feel comfortable with 12 as I mentioned. It will play itself out over this last three preseason games and last two weeks of training camp. It’s hard to play 12 guys every night. Nine or 10 is a more manageable number and that’s where the competition lies and how they’re playing the games and what we’re seeing in practice.”


Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.