The Houston Rockets agreed to hire Ime Udoka as their next coach, a person with knowledge of the agreement confirmed Monday, ending a seven-month exile for the former Boston Celtics coach who was suspended for engaging in an improper relationship with a female team employee.
With Houston, Udoka will inherit one of the NBA’s youngest rosters, which is headlined by first-round draft picks Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr. and Alperen Sengun. Udoka, who spent seven seasons in the NBA as a defensive-minded role player, will be tasked with replicating Boston’s elite defense in Houston, which ranked 29th in defensive efficiency last season. ESPN first reported Udoka’s agreement with the Rockets.
By finishing with a 22-60 record, which was tied for the second worst in the league, the Rockets have a 14 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick in next month’s draft lottery and a 52.1 percent of selecting in the top four. French phenom Victor Wembanyama, the consensus favorite to be the No. 1 selection, officially declared for the draft last week.
The Rockets parted ways with coach Stephen Silas earlier this month after a dismal three-year tenure. Silas, the son of former NBA player and coach Paul Silas, accumulated a 59-177 (.250) record during an extensive rebuilding effort following the 2021 trade of James Harden.
Harden’s departure ended an eight-year run of postseason appearances for the Rockets, and General Manager Rafael Stone has struggled to accumulate proven talent in his three years on the job. Hiring Udoka is a sign that Houston intends on making progress in the standings next season, a logical development given that the Rockets will keep their 2024 first-round pick only if it lands in the top four selections. The Rockets could enter free agency with the most salary cap space in the NBA, and rumors have circulated in recent months about a possible reunion with Harden, who can become a free agent in July.
Before his suspension in Boston, Udoka was regarded as one of the NBA’s top young coaches. He began his coaching career in 2012 as a San Antonio Spurs assistant, spent the 2019-20 season as a Philadelphia 76ers assistant, spent the 2020-21 season as a Brooklyn Nets assistant and served as a USA Basketball assistant coach under Gregg Popovich at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. The Nets explored the possibility of hiring Udoka after parting ways with Steve Nash in November, but they ultimately decided to promote Jacque Vaughn.
Now that Houston has agreed with Udoka, the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors are the NBA teams that have open coaching positions.