NBA

How Ime Udoka’s Road to Redemption Could Reroute 2022-23 Celtics

Don’t be fooled; Brooklyn Nets potentially hiring suspended Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka could spell out grave consequences for Boston as the latest chapter in Brooklyn’s saga continued on Tuesday.

After reportedly permitting the Nets to pursue their first-year coach, it seems the Celtics are ready to strip the interim label off of Joe Mazzulla‘s official title after a two-week, 4-2 start. Two weeks isn’t a long time in the NBA. Still, it was enough for Brooklyn to relieve Steve Nash of his coaching duties after an underwhelming 2-5 record with a healthy Kevin Durant and, for the first time in two seasons, an unlimited Kyrie Irving in tow.

After two weeks, the Nets front office had seen enough. They grew impatient waiting for Nash to come up with some quick-fix solution to the issues that plagued Brooklyn’s disappointing play on the floor, nor could he tame the noise surrounding Kyrie’s social media activity and a controversial documentary offered on Amazon Prime. In the midst of what’s perceived as Durant and Irving’s last chance to succeed in Brooklyn, Nets general manager Sean Marks throws a hail mary by bringing in Udoka.

But who can blame him? This sky’s falling in Brooklyn. Ime’s experience as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Nets through 2019-21, respectively, brings a familiar face for Durant, Irving, Ben Simmons, and Seth Curry. The Nets are hoping Udoka will ultimately breed trust and unity between the players, who watched Ime coach laps around Nash in a 4-0 sweep of last year’s best-of-7 first-round series.

But can Ime reach Kyrie? And how will Ime’s new team receive him; will he be written off as a scorned, desperate coach who’s grasping his only shot to coach an NBA team this season? Because if so, commanding respect one month into the season will be a much more difficult task without players buying in. Unless Durant, Irving, and Simmons instead perceive Udoka as the lifeline they never knew they needed til things fell apart, someone they admired from afar watching the 2022 Finals back in June.

Accountability is key. It’s also something Nets players haven’t exemplified over the past two seasons. Between injuries and vaccine mandates, Brooklyn seems to be a constant victim of matters deemed out of its control.

“At the end of the day, we all came to work,” Durant said while addressing Nash’s firing. “It just didn’t work out on the floor.”

What are some ideal traits for Nash’s replacement?

“That’s tough to answer right now,” Durant added. “We all want high IQ, you know. (Expletive) I really can’t give you a whole breakdown, I just want a good coach.”

Hours before sunset on Tuesday, while the Hall of Fame point guard gathered his belongings, Ime was already named successor to Nash’s vacant seat. Still, will Udoka reach Kyrie? I can’t think of another coach better suited for the job.

How, instead, is the important word, or is Irving, engulfed in conspiracy theories, cryptic messages, and public shaming, too far gone at this point? If we’ve learned anything from over the weekend, Kyrie doesn’t like explaining himself, and accountability isn’t his thing, so how will this work?

Last season, Udoka was revered for holding stars like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart accountable, setting a standard of discipline that led to the best defense in the Eastern Conference and a trip to the NBA Finals.

Udoka will have to reach every one of Kyrie’s teammates as a cohesive unit and let Irving find his way. Irving conforms to success, that much we know. He did it a long time ago alongside LeBron James in Cleveland. He’s not the guy you trust to build its foundation, but you best believe Kyrie will perform at a high level when the lights shine at their brightest.

Meanwhile, the Celtics’ front office has shown endless support for coach Mazzulla. President of basketball operations Brad Stevens was adamant since day one of their choice of interim that Joe was the man for the job. However, how will things play out after Mazzulla’s given the official title of head coach? You know, when the shine wears off.

When the monotony of a rigorous 82-game schedule sets in, or the first significant losing streak is in play, and confidence is waning. That fresh, exciting feeling that comes with coming off your first NBA Finals appearance in cohesion with winning four of your first six contests is fleeting. I want to see how this team responds when things aren’t going well and when facing adversity.

Will Celtics players wish they had Ime to rescue them and grow frustrated knowing the man that guided them to their first championship series is attempting to do the same with a divisional rival?

Through these trying times, can a first-year coach without prior head coaching experience in the NBA motivate the Celtics to play defense at a superior level? Will Tatum and Brown remain on the same page as they are now? These are the same questions surrounding Mazzulla since his promotion was announced. However, these questions are magnified to the nth degree in the wake of Udoka’s potential exit, especially if Udoka is a success in Brooklyn.

And, if you’re the Nets, anywhere near the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture would suffice as a threat to their Eastern Conference rival; the Celtics. Less than 24 hours removed from the reports of Udoka heading to Brooklyn triggered Smart to express his frustration.

“Obviously, we wish he was here,” he told the Boston Globe. “We have no control over that. It definitely sucks. I guess it was deemed that whatever happened was enough for him to be the coach here, but I guess not enough for him (not) to coach anywhere else, obviously.”

Remember, two weeks isn’t a long time in the NBA. While the Celtics are off to a good start, the tide can change quickly. Who’s to say Celtics players won’t be disappointed, confused, or even worse, disengage themselves from a coaching change they never approved of or fully understood?

In what’s considered the most unforeseen pivot in NBA coaching history, Udoka heading to a divisional rival is a risk for the Celtics, added pressure for a rookie head coach, who’s swimming deep into uncharted waters.

 

Josue Pavon

Celtics Reporter

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