The Houston Rockets have agreed on a deal to hire Ime Udoka as the franchise’s next coach, sources told ESPN on Monday.
The hiring comes nearly three months after the Boston Celtics suspended and dismissed Udoka for an improper workplace relationship, a situation that the Rockets probed with the league office and with the Celtics, among others, before making the job offer, sources told ESPN.
In his one season as a head coach, Udoka led the Celtics to the 2022 Eastern Conference championship and an NBA Finals appearance against Golden State.
The hiring is a coup for Rockets general manager Rafael Stone, who helped sell Udoka on the franchise’s young talent, salary cap space and the chance at winning the draft lottery and selecting generational talent Victor Wembanyama.
Udoka and Stone moved quickly toward a partnership upon an initial meeting recently, sources said. Udoka decided against pursuing the Toronto Raptors job — and other potential openings in this hiring cycle, sources said. The Brooklyn Nets considered hiring Udoka in the aftermath of an early-season firing of Steve Nash, but ultimately decided to promote interim coach Jacquie Vaughn.
Udoka’s ability to galvanize a locker room and command respect were an immense part of his attractiveness to the Rockets and the marketplace. Udoka led the Celtics to a 51-31 record, and became one of five rookie head coaches to reach the NBA Finals in the past 25 years, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
Udoka helped the Celtics to the league’s No. 1 defensive efficiency a season ago and a top-10 finish in offense. The Rockets ranked in the bottom five of both categories in a season that saw them go 22-60.
Former Lakers coach Frank Vogel and former Charlotte coach James Borrego were also prominent members of the Rockets’ coaching search, sources said.
An independent law firm probe into Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate before the start of an improper workplace relationship with a subordinate, an element that significantly factored into the severity of Udoka’s initial suspension, sources told ESPN in September.
Those investigative findings — which described Udoka’s verbiage as especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contributed to what became an impossible pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach. The power dynamic associated with a superior’s improper relationship with a staff member was the primary finding and policy violation cited in the law firm’s report, which was commissioned by the Celtics and completed in September, sources said.
Houston Rockets to hire ex-Celtics coach Ime Udoka