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Celtics happy for Ime Udoka after Rockets hired him as head coach

Derrick White and Al Horford avoided speaking at length about the former Celtics head coach while expressing happiness that he received another opportunity.

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2022 NBA Finals - Boston Celtics v Golden State Warriors Photo by Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images

BOSTON — The Houston Rockets will reportedly hire former Celtics head coach Ime Udoka after his suspension and parting with Boston earlier this season shocked Boston. On Tuesday, Derrick White and Al Horford largely avoided the topic before their potential first round finale against the Hawks.

“I think it’s good. It’s good for him. I’m happy for him ... I think it’s good for him to get that opportunity,” Horford said. “Our feel is, we have a big game ahead of us. I feel like we all understand what’s in front of us, and our ability to beable to win this game, that’s all we’re looking at right now.”

Despite confusion persisting over Udoka’s suspension, expressed most recently by Jaylen Brown to The Ringer, the Celtics moved on quickly from the shock of the news days before training camp began. The team eventually removed Joe Mazzulla’s interim head coach tag after he and the remaining staff rallied and led Boston to the No. 2 record in the NBA.

As Stephen Silas, the former Rockets head coach, interestingly watched shootaround above the court at Auerbach Center with Brad Stevens on Monday, Horford and White reflected a group that had long moved past the Udoka saga. Relationships remain, Tatum said earlier this year he spoke to his favorite coach Udoka periodically during the season, while most others remain out of touch with him. Udoka’s comments when Houston introduces him will mark his first publicly since the suspension.

“You get to know all your coaches, especially when you’ve been with them for 4-5 years,” White said. “What happened happened, and we’re just trying to move on and focus on Atlanta. I didn’t text him or anything, but I definitely wish him the best.”

White expects Udoka to change the culture in Houston after two last-place finishes and a third that came close to it this year. The Rockets have a 14% chance to land Victor Wembanyama, considered by many the best prospect since LeBron James, while multiple reports hinted potential free agent James Harden could consider a return to Houston. Udoka formerly coached Harden during the 2020-21 season in Brooklyn.

Marcus Smart and other players expressed compassion for the head coach starting in training camp and struggled to judge the situation with their access to details of his alleged multiple violations of team policy as limited as anyone else’s. Reports indicated the suspension stemmed from an improper relationship with a Celtics staffer. Adam Silver said at the all-star break Boston handled the situation appropriately, while Udoka’s only statement since accepted the punishment.

As Udoka builds his Rockets staff, one of the many remaining questions surrounding a story growing more distant from Boston is whether the many Celtics assistant coaches and Udoka friends who joined the staff in 2021 would leave Boston for Houston. Ben Sullivan told Boston Sports Journal he’s committed to the Celtics and Damon Stoudamire left to coach Georgia Tech.

“I was with (Udoka) in San Antonio to start my career, so I saw him there, but then just getting a different light of him as a head coach, he’s definitely a good basketball mind and he’s gonna do a good job,” White said. “I’m not too focused on it. I saw it on Twitter. We’re just focused on Atlanta here. That’s what my mind’s on.”

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