Ime Udoka

Celtics Notes: Smart, Williams, Udoka, Game 7

Marcus Smart couldn’t sleep after the embarrassing end to the Celtics‘ Game 5 loss, but he redeemed himself as Boston won Game 6 in Milwaukee, writes Andrew Callahan of The Boston Herald. With the Celtics trailing by a point in the closing seconds on Wednesday, Smart had his shot blocked by Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, who clinched the game seconds later by stealing the ball from Smart.

“That final minute, those final minutes, ate me alive,” Smart said. “My guys, teammates, coaches, were doing a good job of making sure that I stay as composed as I could and keep my mind right, cause I was really hurt after that. I felt like I let my team down. ‘Just be you.’ That’s just all they kept telling me. (Celtics assistant) Damon Stoudamire pulled me to the side and just told me — cause I dropped my head a couple times in those possessions — he was just, ‘I’ve never seen you do that and I just want you to not to lose confidence in yourself because we need you.’”

Instead of lying awake, Smart spent the night at the Celtics’ practice facility and regained his focus for Game 6. He scored 21 points, handed out seven assists and showed why he was this season’s Defensive Player of the Year by limiting Bucks’ shooters to 33% from the field when he was their primary defender.

“That was to be expected. We have all the confidence in the world in Smart,” Jayson Tatum said. “We knew that he was gonna come back and be the player that we needed him to be on the road in this Game 6, and he stepped up. He was big for us tonight, especially in the beginning, making the right plays.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • Injured center Robert Williams has been upgraded to questionable for Game 7 on the Celtics’ injury report (Twitter link). Williams hasn’t played since suffering a bone bruise in his left knee in Game 3, and coach Ime Udoka said Williams’ pain tolerance will determine whether he’ll be active today, according to Trevor Hass of Udoka explained that the injury affects Williams’ mobility on certain movements, but he doesn’t believe it’s a long-term concern.
  • Warriors forward Draymond Green sent out a tweet Friday night stating that Udoka doesn’t receive enough credit for the job he’s done with the Celtics. “I just watched Bucks/Celtics highlights on (ESPN’s Sports Center),” Green wrote. “They showed something about Mike Buldenholzer and then some of the Celtics players talking about the game. But, did not show Ime Udoka at all. Did he make any adjustments from game 5 to 6? Does Ime do Interviews? Just wondering???”
  • The Celtics have lost twice at home to the Bucks already in this series, but they’re glad to have Game 7 in Boston, per David Brandt of The Associated Press. “It means everything,” Tatum said. “The best atmosphere in the NBA. Game 7s are the biggest and best games. Looking forward to it, truly. It’s basketball – biggest moments, biggest stage. What it boils down to is now go out there and just have fun.”

Celtics Notes: Smart, Trade Deadline, Udoka, Horford

Ahead of today’s first playoff game against Brooklyn, starting Celtics point guard Marcus Smart expressed his plan to defend Nets starting point guard (and Smart’s former Boston teammate for two years) Kyrie Irving, per Steve Popper of Newday.

“It’s just making every shot and every possession that he has the ball as hard as possible for him,” Smart said. “He’s one of the greatest to do it for a reason. We understand that we’re not going to shut his water off all the way completely. We understand we’re not going to stop him. He’s going to score. He’s going to make tough shots. But we’re going to make those shots as tough as possible.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • As the Celtics saw improvement in their roster leading up to the February trade deadline, the front office decided to prioritize building for the present, not just the future, writes Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe. Himmelsbach takes a detailed look at Boston’s decision-making at the deadline. Team owner Wyc Grousbeck held a meeting with team management and head coach Ime Udoka. “Wyc came to us and said, ‘I think this team could be really good,'” vice president of basketball operations Mike Zarren said. “He said, ‘Let’s go for it. We’re not sellers. We’re buyers.'” The team finished the season as the second seed in the East with a 51-31 record, in part thanks to the bolstered bench depth it added via trade in reserves Derrick White and Daniel Theis.
  • Udoka has his players buying in thanks to an excellent conclusion to the 2021/22 NBA season, per Marc J. Spears of Andscape“One thing I’ve always admired about him, especially as a first-year head coach, was how hungry he was,” Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum said of his first-year head coach in March. “You could tell how hard he was going to work. We always stuck with him, and he stuck with us and changed our history around.”
  • Returning Celtics big man Al Horford is enjoying his second stint with Boston, and the growth he has witnessed in the teammates with whom he has reunited, per Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald. “They inspire me,” Horford said. “Everything has worked now because, not only did those guys grow, but [Robert Williams] came into his own, and there were other things that helped the group to get in the position we’re in today.”

And-Ones: Monthly Awards, Hollis-Jefferson, Cooper

Rockets guard Jalen Green and Raptors forward Scottie Barnes were named the Rookies of the Month for March/April in the Western Conference and Eastern Conference, respectively, the NBA announced on Monday (via Twitter).

Green got off to an up-and-down start this season but finished strong, averaging 22.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 3.2 APG on .484/.395/.763 shooting in 22 games in March and April. Barnes helped the Raptors secure the No. 5 seed in the East by putting up 16.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 4.0 APG on 50.5% shooting in his last 22 contests.

The NBA also announced its Coaches of the Month for March/April on Tuesday (Twitter link). Mavericks coach Jason Kidd won the Western award for a 16-5 run to the end of the season; Ime Udoka, whose Celtics finished with a 15-4 stretch, earned the honor in the East.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

Atlantic Notes: Williams, Siakam, Brown, Sims

It would be a big surprise if Celtics center Robert Williams returned during the first round of the playoffs, but the door isn’t entirely closed on that possibility, Jay King of The Athletic tweets. Williams, who underwent left knee surgery on March 30, hasn’t technically been ruled out because players react differently to surgeries, according to coach Ime Udoka. However, the expectation is that Williams won’t be available, Udoka added.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Raptors forward Pascal Siakam had another huge game on Thursday, piling up 37 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists against Philadelphia. Siakam has become an all-around force who deserves a spot on one of the All-NBA teams, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports writes. “I think I’m continuing to get better,” Siakam said. “It’s been a good long road for me and I just always believed all the work I have put in is going to pay off.”
  • Jaylen Brown had a triple-double against Milwaukee on Thursday. Just being on the court was enough to add to Brown’s bank account. The Celtics forward gained a $482,143 bonus for playing in his 65th game this season, ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets. The bonus was deemed likely heading into the season and does not impact Brown’s cap hit, Marks adds.
  • Knicks two-way player Jericho Sims notched 10 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks in 35 minutes against Brooklyn on Wednesday. Sims has a similar skill set to Mitchell Robinson, who is headed to free agency this summer, and could replace him in the rotation next season, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes. “Great feet, the athleticism is terrific,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Sims. “We haven’t seen the playmaking in the paint he has. As time goes on, we’ll see that he’s a very good playmaker in the paint. You’ll see him kick out and find the open guy.’’

And-Ones: Brown, Brogdon, Biyombo, Udoka, Snyder, Russia, Smith

Jaylen Brown, Malcolm Brogdon and Bismack Biyombo have been re-elected as VPs on the National Basketball Players Association’s Executive Committee, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets. They’ll serve new three-year terms, according to the players’ union.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • The Celtics’ Ime Udoka and Jazz‘s Quin Snyder were named Coaches of the Month for February, NBA Communications tweets. Boston had a 9-2 record during the month, while Utah went 8-1.
  • In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the NBA has suspended all activities in Russia, Mark J. Burns of the Sports Business Journal tweets. According to Burns’ source, that includes activities related to content distribution such as digital and broadcast. There is no timeline on when business activities will resume in Russia.
  • Forward Roscoe Smith, who has appeared in 149 G League games, has signed in Palestine with Orthodoxi Beit Jala, agent Derek James of Global Pipeline Agency told JD Shaw of Hoops Rumors (Twitter link).

Celtics Notes: Brown, Udoka, Schröder, Hernangomez

The Celtics dealt with lots of turmoil last season: injuries, a short turnaround from the Orlando bubble, and COVID-19 outbreaks affecting several players, including star Jayson Tatum. The team is hoping to turn the page entering training camp, and Jaylen Brown appears optimistic, particularly about new head coach Ime Udoka.

“I’m completely bought in,” Brown said of Udoka. “I’m looking forward to this season and being an extension of him on the court.” (Twitter link via Keith Smith of Spotrac).

President of basketball operations Brad Stevens, the former head coach, says that Brown has been cleared by the team’s doctors after recovering from wrist surgery, and will be a full participant in practice, per Jared Weiss of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Udoka participated in media day virtually through Zoom, instead of in person, because the first-year head coach is in the last day of quarantine after contracting a breakthrough case of COVID-19, per ESPN News Services. Udoka is fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, according to team spokesperson Christian Megliola. He’s expected to join the team tomorrow for the start of training camp.

There’s more from Boston:

  • Dennis Schröder mentioned yesterday that Tatum and Brown both called to recruit him to the Celtics, but they weren’t the only ones. He told reporters today that Stevens, Udoka, and former Hawks teammate Al Horford called him as well, adding, “I know Al Horford will have the locker room under control.” (Twitter link via Keith Smith of Spotrac).
  • Schröder also consulted with Thunder general manager Sam Presti prior to signing with Boston, and Presti endorsed the Celtics organization, per Smith (Twitter link).
  • Juan Hernangomez, who dislocated his left shoulder over the summer in an exhibition game prior to the Olympics, says the shoulder is 100 percent now, according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Atlantic Notes: Tatum, Harrison, Vildoza, Knicks

Speaking to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum discussed the hiring of new Boston head coach Ime Udoka, logging time with Team USA in this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, and more.

“Extremely happy about Ime,” Tatum said of Udoka. “I’ve known him for a little while. He’s extremely motivated and I think everybody has a good feeling about this. I think this is going to be great.” Tatum noted that he and fellow Celtics All-Star Jaylen Brown were both consulted as the team interviewed a variety of head coach candidates.

“It was tough, just everything that we had to endure, everything that kind of happened,” Tatum said of the Celtics’ disappointing 2020/21 season, which saw the club finish as the No. 7 seed in the East and lose in the first round to the Nets. “It put in perspective and made me appreciate those good years that we had and we made those deep playoff runs. It’s not always guaranteed and it made me appreciate that.”

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Shooting guard D’Angelo Harrison is scheduled to attend the Sixers‘ mini-camp later in July, tweets Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. Since going undrafted out of St. John’s in 2015, the 6’4″ 27-year-old has played for a variety of international teams. During the 2020/21 season, Harrison played for Italian League club New Basket Brindisi.
  • Newly-added Knicks point guard Luca Vildoza showed off his sharpshooting bona fides during an Olympics exhibition match for Team Argentina last Saturday, as Marc Berman of the New York Post details. Vildoza connected on three of his eight three-point looks in the 87-84 loss to Team Australia.
  • The Knicks have a clear need to upgrade their starting point guard position. With that in mind, Ian Begley of examines several restricted free agent options for New York, noting that lead guards who are not ball-dominant (including Lonzo BallKendrick Nunn, and Devonte’ Graham) could be ideal fits alongside All-Star forward Julius Randle, who thrives with the ball in his hands.

Atlantic Notes: Durant, Udoka, Sixers, Nurse

Kevin Durant proved he’s still an elite player after his long absence following Achilles surgery, but he won’t hold fond memories of this season because of the way it ended, writes Brian Lewis of the New York Post. The Nets went through an epic second-round battle with the Bucks before falling in overtime of Game 7, and Durant said on his “Boardroom: Out of Office” podcast that the disappointment overshadows everything else.

“I’m getting so many congratulations now: I didn’t do anything. We lost,” he said. “I knew I could play, I knew I was nice. I’ve scored 48 before. I had big games before, I made big shots before. So it didn’t feel like anything special to me, because we lost.”

Durant deserves credit for changing the culture around the franchise, Lewis adds. His decision to join the team as a free agent in 2019, along with Kyrie Irving, instantly made Brooklyn one of the glamor spots in the NBA. The addition of James Harden in a January trade turned the Nets into title favorites, maybe for several years.

“Just the camaraderie we built with the fans. The culture we kind of built around Barclays and just Nets culture in general,” Durant said. “People kind of look at the Nets now and like, ‘All right, they can be contenders next year.’ I like that part of it. I was excited about that going forward. I was excited about that even in the regular season. It felt pretty solid to start to build a culture. I feel like a lot Nets fans feel like, ‘Yo, we got a chance.’ To make some noise next year.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Ime Udoka‘s duties with Team USA in the Olympics may prevent him from coaching the Celtics‘ Summer League squad, according to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. New head coaches often handle Summer League teams, but the gold medal game in Tokyo is set for August 7, a day before the start of play in Las Vegas. Himmelsbach expects Romeo Langford, Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith to all be part of Boston’s contingent, along with Moses Brown, who was acquired from the Thunder in a trade last month.
  • The quick turnarounds by the Suns and Hawks, who both missed the playoffs last season, shows that teams don’t need to go through years of losing like the Sixers did with “The Process,” argues Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • Raptors coach Nick Nurse isn’t sure of his future as head coach of the Canadian national team, tweets Blake Murphy of The Athletic. Canada will miss the Olympics after falling to the Czech Republic in a qualifying tournament Saturday. “I love coaching and I love coaching this team, and Toronto, and I’m just trying to help basketball grow,” Nurse said. “… I just want this team to be as good as it can possibly be.”

Celtics Notes: Smart, Udoka, Stevens, Tatum

New Celtics coach Ime Udoka considers Marcus Smart to be a “foundational piece” for the future, tweets Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. Udoka made the comments during a radio interview today, indicating that the team will rely heavily on Smart, who’s expected to take over as point guard following the trade of Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City.

“What Marcus brings is invaluable, it’s the heart and soul of the team at times,” Udoka said. “… He has that edge and toughness about him … He’s another foundational piece … What he does for Jaylen (Brown) and Jayson (Tatum) is invaluable, in my eyes” (Twitter link).

Smart will make $14.3MM next season on the final year of his contract. The Celtics may try to work out an extension to keep him from reaching free agency next summer.

There’s more from Boston:

  • In his introductory press conference Monday, Udoka said he’s looking forward to helping the Celtics’ young stars improve, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Udoka revealed that he has met with Smart, Brown and Tatum, and they all expressed a desire to be pushed. “I’m not worried about our group worrying about hard coaching,” Udoka said. “They are asking for that, and it’s something I’m going to bring to the table.”
  • President of basketball operations Brad Stevens started his coaching search with a long list of names, but conversations with his players pushed him toward Udoka, Forsberg writes in a full story. Boston’s three stars had experience with Udoka as part of Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup and they all recommended him. “I’m quick to put my arm around guys but also quick to hold them accountable,” Udoka told reporters. “And so there’s a fine balance there. But that’s all based on relationships and respect and what I do demand from those guys.”
  • Tatum was disappointed to be left off the All-NBA team and not just because of the money it cost him, relays Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston. Tatum discussed the decision, which could have added $32.6MM to his contract extension, in an appearance on the Kicks’ “Beyond the Press” podcast. “I wasn’t necessarily upset about losing the money,” he said. “I think I just felt like the way I was playing, everything I did, I thought it should have been a no-brainer. I think I was just more frustrated with that.”

Celtics To Hire Will Hardy As Assistant

The Celtics are finalizing a deal to add veteran Spurs assistant Will Hardy to Ime Udoka‘s new coaching staff, reports Jay King of The Athletic (Twitter link).

[RELATED: Celtics Hire Imu Udoka As Head Coach]

It’s a nice get for Boston and for Udoka, who worked as a Spurs assistant himself from 2012-19. Hardy joined San Antonio’s video department in 2011 and was later promoted to the coaching staff in 2015, so he and Udoka have several years of experience working together.

Hardy and Udoka were also both on Gregg Popovich‘s Team USA staff at the 2019 World Cup. Udoka reportedly developed a connection with Celtics players Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart during that time with the U.S. national team, which helped earn him Boston’s head coaching job.

Hardy has some Massachusetts roots, as he played his college ball at Williams College. He coached several of the Spurs’ Summer League teams between 2015-18, and has also received some consideration as a head coaching candidate in the past, having been linked to the Pacers, Knicks, and Thunder when they were conducting coaching searches in 2020.

There’s an expectation that the Celtics will continue to target experienced assistants to fill out their coaching staff in order to put first-time head coach Udoka in the best position to succeed.