While most of the league is tuned into the playoffs, the Celtics have undergone tectonic shifts since their postseason exit just over a month ago. Brad Stevens has replaced Danny Ainge as President of Basketball Operations. Stevens traded Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder with Al Horford returning to Boston along with Moses Brown. Finally, Ime Udoka was named the 18th head coach of the Celtics.
“It was a lot at first with all the changes, especially with the coaches and front office, but change is good. Sometimes,” Jayson Tatum said in his first media availability since joining Team USA in Vegas. “I’m excited about our new coach, Ime. Obviously, Kemba — that’s my man. You hate to see one of your close guys go, but I wish nothing but the best for him wherever he goes. I’m happy to have Al back. He looked better in green anyway.”
But even with all the changes, much has stayed the same. Jayson Tatum returns to the international stage representing the United States in the 2020 Summer Olympics. With him is Udoka, who will assist his former boss and head coach Gregg Popovich before Team USA heads to Tokyo.
Udoka and Tatum worked together during the 2019 FIBA World Cup when the Celtics had four representatives, including Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. It was reported that Udoka’s relationship with Tatum, Brown, and Smart played a big part in his eventual hiring two years later.
“Of the guys that were finalists, I had somewhat of a relationship with all of them. I basically told them, ‘you can’t go wrong.,’” Tatum said of his involvement with Boston’s offseason so far. “It’s the front office’s job to make those decisions and it’s my job to go out there and play. That’s basically what it was.”
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that including Udoka, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham and now head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, Chauncey Billups, were also being considered for the position. Since being named head coach, Udoka has called Tatum and Brown pillars of the franchise (and Smart a “foundational piece”) and by the sound of it, Tatum and Udoka are already gelling.
“I guess what stands out the most is that when you’re coming up as an assistant and you get your first head coach job, you’re driven and motivated,” Tatum said of his new head coach.
“From the conversations I’ve had with him since he got the job, I can tell he’s just really really excited. It’s going to be fun and we’re going to try and accomplish something big.”
So far, Stevens’ moves and Udoka’s comments all point to a future centered around Tatum. And with a head coach looking to prove himself and Tatum coming off of an All-NBA snub (and missing out on a $32 million incentive), “something big” could certainly be in the cards next season.