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Ime Udoka details Celtics exit in first return to TD Garden since 2022 Finals

The now-Rockets head coach built relationships when in Boston, and they still remain to this day.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Miami Heat Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

BOSTON – In his one year with the Boston Celtics, Ime Udoka found more success than Brad Stevens ever did. Following a disastrous start to the 2021-22 season, he led the Celtics to their first NBA Finals birth since 2010.

His time with the Celtics was quick, heavily covered, and one of the biggest storylines in the league.

The same can be said about his exit.

Just before the 2022-23 season started, it was reported that the Celtics were suspending Udoka for the year as they investigated an inappropriate relationship between him and a fellow staffer. Udoka was eventually let go by the Celtics, and Joe Mazzulla took over as head coach.

Celtics players were vocal about their disappointment with Udoka’s departure, telling the media they were in the dark regarding the reasoning.

“I would say they lied to you guys. They knew,” Udoka said when asked about the period of time when the Celtics players were in the dark. “Some of them knew. Obviously, I could talk to them. They wouldn’t share stuff publicly. Who needed to know, knew.”

Despite the lack of public knowledge, Udoka made sure that everyone who was directly impacted by the suspension knew what was happening. And since then, he’s tried his best to mend relationships and move forward.

“I was upfront with the guys when things happened,” said Udoka. “I reached out to who I needed to and had a little comfort in guys knowing what happened and how it all went down. And then, obviously, made up with my coaches because they all came with me to Houston. So, a lot of my guys are back with me. And I talked to them throughout the year whenever I could, but I wanted to give them space to do their thing as well.

“That goes with the players as well. But ran into quite a bit of them over the summer at Marcus Smart’s wedding and everywhere in between, so I’ve seen them all and talk to them regularly.”

Memphis Grizzlies v Houston Rockets Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Udoka, now the coach of the Houston Rockets, is back at TD Garden for the first time since the 2022 NBA Finals. His return to Boston brought some odd feelings but not an outpour of emotions.

“Spent a good year here and had some success, like I mentioned,” Udoka said. “I just saw a few people that you’re reminded [of]. Everybody on the ramp when you walk in. And so it’s a little bit different as far as that.”

Udoka’s drama-filled exit caused chaos in Boston and throughout the Celtics organization, but he’s since moved on (a move that caused even more questions to be thrown around). He has helped lead Houston to their first chance at an above .500 record since the James Harden era ended.

The Rockets brought him on board ahead of the 2023-24 season after a year away from coaching. Now solely focused on helping Alperen Sengun and Houston’s young core grow, Udoka has two regrets from his time with the Celtics.

“Job not finished. The relationships you build and the people you impact. And so, yeah, that’d be the biggest thing,” Udoka said. “You formed a lot of relationships within a year and obviously wanted a chance to run it back and do it again with a group that you feel you could build and grow with.

“And so, letting the people down. And I talked about the players and the relationships I built with them, the coaches that came with me, and then everybody else that was impacted by it. So, for me, that’s the biggest thing I would say overall is letting some people down for sure. But we’ve talked it out, and I’ve seen a lot of these people throughout the summer and talk regularly, and so we’ve moved past it.”

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

Falling to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals was a bitter end to a season of growth. It was the first time Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and their iteration of the Celtics made it past the hump of the Conference Finals after failing to hurdle it for years.

Because of his impact, Udoka and the players became very close very quickly. His coaching style was a complete 180 from Stevens’s, and based on the results, it was appreciated. Udoka was constantly straightforward, vocal, and adamant about calling out players for failing to live up to the high standards that were set.

The success that went hand-in-hand with his approach spawned connections that last to this day.

“It’s the relationships that have been built, and they’re going to be long-lasting,” Udoka said. “And so we all check on each other. It’s no different than LaMarcus Aldridge or Joel Embiid or guys I’ve coached that I’ve gotten really close with. And so, from that standpoint, regularly, they do something crazy or they see me do something crazy, they reach out on TV or whatever.

“In general, I think being in LA in the summer, we all run into each other quite a bit and talk regularly. So I wouldn’t say it’s any different than anybody else other than the fact that we have a lot of success in a short period and really formed great relationships.”

The details of Udoka’s swift exit from the Celtics may never be unveiled, but the relationships he formed during his time in Boston remain to this day.

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