MacMullan: How Udoka's coaching style fits Celtics' needs


The Boston Celtics completed their search for their next head coach on Wednesday, reportedly finalizing an agreement to hire Ime Udoka as Brad Stevens' replacement.

The 43-year-old has served as an assistant coach since 2012, when he joined Gregg Popovich's staff on the San Antonio Spurs. He was hired as a Philadelphia 76ers assistant in 2019 and was a Brooklyn Nets assistant for the 2020-21 season.

Forsberg: Udoka checked all the boxes for Celtics

The move to hire Udoka was met with praise from the NBA world and, more importantly, the approval of key Celtics players. Udoka coached Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart as an assistant with Team USA at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

So, other than his brief experience coaching the Celtics trio, what makes Udoka such a great fit for this team? ESPN's Jackie MacMullan explained Wednesday on Early Edition.

"I think he's a great fit with Brad Stevens," MacMullan said. "When I think about Brad Stevens, I think of someone who is not a self-promoter, that likes to stay under the radar and just do his work. Someone who's a defensive-first coach in many ways, who believes in the pillars of consistency and character. All the things that the San Antonio Spurs have represented, an organization that we know Brad Stevens has openly admired, and Ime is part of that coaching tree.

"As for the players endorsing him, that is wonderful, but don't be mistaken. When need be, the word on the street is Ime can be a hard-nosed guy with his players. Fair, but can be hard-nosed and I think that's something this Celtics team could use."

One criticism of Stevens was that he wasn't hard enough on his players during times in which it was warranted. By the sound of it, Udoka has a knack for holding players accountable.

Another quality that likely appealed to the Celtics during the interview process is Udoka's focus on defense. The Celtics struggled throughout the 2020-21 campaign on that side of the floor.

"One of the things [Udoka] did was connect almost immediately with James Harden when he came over (to the Nets)," MacMullan said. "And as you know, Harden came over there a little battered with a very public perception that wasn't so hot, and he really calmed him down. One of his specialties as we've talked about is defense. You could see the defensive commitment Harden made with that team."

Only time will tell whether Udoka is truly the right fit for Boston. As of now though, it's clear why he topped the Celtics' list of worthy candidates.

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