Forsberg: An open letter to Ime Udoka after another head scratcher


To Whom Ime Concern (did you see what I did there?),

Hey, Coach. You seem like a pretty even-keeled guy so you probably don’t need this note. And we’ll preface any advice offered below by acknowledging that we’re just some nerd who watches a lot of basketball, really likes Robert Williams, and somehow gets paid to scream about these things.

But it feels like a good time to pass along some advice that my colleague Tommy Heinsohn once gave your boss.

"When you get home, open up that computer then close that computer, and go have a beer,” Heinsohn told Brad Stevens during a rough patch in his rookie season. Stevens obliged and still considers it some of the best advice he got that year.

Celtics-Wizards Takeaways: Boston can't overcome woeful shooting

Now, I seem to recall Gregg Popovich saying you’re not a drinker -- this team might make you change your mind! -- so you might have to settle for simply tossing aside your iPad and grabbing a Topo Chico. If you have Twitter on any of your devices, you should probably delete it for your sanity. Literally burn your burners. Social media is an angry place.

But let’s focus on the positives: Your players, especially Jaylen Brown, responded well to being called out after Wednesday’s dud. The uptick in defensive intensity is an encouraging sign. You’ve clearly got the ear of your new locker room.

And we're probably not penning this letter if your team didn’t improbably start the night by missing 20 straight 3-pointers. Or if Montrezl Harrell doesn’t heave in a triple from midcourt before the halftime buzzer. Or if Rob played (no, you definitely win this one if Rob plays). But the offense sputtered much of the night and your team missed multiple chances to steal this one. Your guys have expended a bunch of energy with five overtimes in six games and only a 2-4 record to show for it.

Our biggest concern is the inconsistent nature of the team. There’s no shortage of factors for that. But the execution down the stretch of Saturday’s game was particularly worrisome. It felt like there were multiple instances where your team was one stop, or one bucket, or one whistle away from salting away a much-needed win. But poor decisions over the final nine minutes of overtime sealed the team's fate. We can play the what if game all day:

  • What if Spencer Dinwiddie’s running layup didn't slam off the back iron, or if Josh Richardson didn’t foul him in the aftermath? You probably escape in regulation with a gritty win that changes the whole narrative of the night.
  • What if Brown turned the corner on Beal before his end-of-regulation shot attempt, or if he had been a bit more balanced on that 19-foot pull-up?
  • What if Tatum, Brown, and Richardson didn't settle for perimeter jumpers with a two-possession lead midway through the first overtime?
  • What if Tatum didn't get a questionable whistle while trying to block Harrell with 64 seconds to play in that first overtime?
  • What if Dennis Schroder didn't wave off Brown before Tatum settled for a double-covered 14-foot fadeaway at the end of the first overtime?
  • What if Schroder didn't miss a free throw midway through the second overtime?
  • What if referees didn’t overturn the foul call when Tatum thought he got hit going to the basket with a one-point lead and 76 seconds to go?
  • What if Tatum didn't throw the ball away with 17 seconds to play?
  • What if Brown got something better than a rushed 30-foot prayer that was swatted right after it left his feet?

All those “ifs” are a reminder of something Stevens said on the radio Friday. This team simply isn’t talented enough overall (especially without Rob) to not maximize every single possession.

Your biggest task is getting Tatum and Brown to lock in a little bit more in those moments. For all their obvious talent and all they’ve accomplished to this point of their young careers, they've got to be just a bit more crisp in those late-game moments. Brown cannot settle for just two shots over the first 9:59 of overtime, this after willing the Celtics back with a relentless desire to attack the basket.

Keep pushing Tatum and Brown. Hold them accountable, even if just behind closed doors, for poor decisions. They can make even better choices. Their development and ability to ascend to another level will likely define at least the early portion of your coaching tenure.

Another positive: Al Horford looks great out there. You might want to send the Oklahoma City training staff some cannolis and lobster tails from Mike’s Pastry as a thank you. But don’t forget about your youngest players, too.

We don’t see quite enough behind the scenes to know fully why Aaron Nesmith has already faded from your rotation. We understand the preference for a nine-man group, and to lean on established veterans. Hey, any first-year coach is going to feel the pressure to succeed and you’ve taken over a team with far more expectations than the Gerald Wallace/Keith Bogans/Kris Humphries Big Three that Brad inherited.

But ownership and the front office here are pretty patient. Just ask Doc Rivers about fans calling for his job. Which is our long-winded way of saying that, if you're going to take some lumps along the way, you might as well play the kids. It should make your life easier down the road, whether Nesmith and Payton Pritchard are primary pieces of this core, or prime trade assets that might entice another team to ship out more established talent.

Either way, let Nesmith and Pritchard play through their own mistakes. It paid dividends for the team at the end of last season and could ease a lot of the spacing/shooting issues for this team now. Or at least once Nesmith stops over-thinking his slow start.

Alright, I'm rambling here. You’ve got the Bulls to prepare for on Monday. Hopefully Rob is healthy.

Just remember: Don't get caught up in the sprint. The season is a marathon. Break some of this team’s lingering bad habits, nurture the youth, and winning will take care of itself.

Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done to get where you want to go and it’s not going to happen overnight.


Chris Forsberg

NBC Sports Boston Basketball Nerd

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