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Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta trumpeted the hiring of Ime Udoka as the first step in “phase two” of the franchise’s rebuilding process, in which immediately returning to the playoffs after a three-year absence is the plan.

He also attributed conversations with NBA officials and Udoka for feeling at ease with hiring the head coach following his suspension and eventual dismissal from the Boston Celtics due to an improper workplace relationship.

“The NBA told me that they felt very comfortable with Ime becoming the coach of the Houston Rockets,” Fertitta said during a Wednesday news conference at the Toyota Center. “So that made me feel really good after a lengthy, lengthy conversation with him.”

Udoka led the Celtics to a 51-31 record and an NBA Finals appearance in his lone season as a head coach. He was suspended in September after an independent law firm probe found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate before the start of an improper workplace relationship with her, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his initial suspension, sources told ESPN then. He was dismissed during the season when the Celtics opted to make Joe Mazzulla, who had been promoted on an interim basis, the head coach moving forward.

The Rockets hired Udoka to replace Stephen Silas after Houston finished with the worst record in the Western Conference for three straight seasons in the wake of a teardown and rebuilding plan that began when James Harden requested a trade.

Udoka referenced the apologetic statement he released in September and said he has undergone leadership and sensitivity training as well as counseling with his son during his season away from the NBA. Udoka emphasized that he took “ownership and accountability,” noting that those are things he preaches to players.

“I’d say in general, like Tilman alluded to, they’ve done their due diligence and homework on who I am as a person,” Udoka said Wednesday. “I think we spent quality time together getting to know each other and we clicked pretty easily and pretty well.

“But overall, I released a statement months ago when everything happened and apologized to a lot of people for the tough position I put them in, and I stand by that, and I feel much more remorse even now towards that. So, I spent this last offseason working on myself in a lot of different ways, improving in areas. It was a chance to sit back, reflect and grow, and I think that’ll make me a better coach and overall, a better leader.”

In response to an inquiry about whether the league office expressed comfort with Houston hiring Udoka, NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement: “Former Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka was suspended for the 2022-23 NBA season following an investigation conducted by outside counsel engaged by the Celtics. The findings of the investigation were shared with the NBA league office and we believe the discipline imposed was appropriate.”

Rockets general manager Rafael Stone declined to discuss specifics about the due diligence done by the team while considering hiring Udoka, including whether the Rockets reviewed the independent investigation commissioned by the Rockets.

“We did diligence not just on him but on every candidate we have,” Stone said. “We do it on every important hire. And so, what I would say is that we got comfortable that it was an appropriate hire and that we were comfortable in the process. But just the same way I wouldn’t talk about exactly what we did with anybody else, I’m not going to talk about it with Ime. It’s just in my view, it’s not appropriate.”

Fertitta said that anybody who doesn’t think Udoka deserves a second chance is “not a good Christian person.” Fertitta said the positive input from his wife, Paige, and Rockets president Gretchen Sheirr was an important factor in the decision to hire Udoka.

“We’re a forgiving world, and anybody that isn’t forgiving, then shame on them,” Fertitta said.

Udoka, 45, was considering a rising star in the coaching world after inheriting a Boston team that was coming off a .500 season and leading the Celtics to the Finals.

Udoka, who had a seven-year NBA career as a role player, earned a reputation for toughness and intelligence while serving as an assistant coach for nine seasons, the first seven on Gregg Popovich’s staff with the San Antonio Spurs. The Celtics led the league in defensive efficiency during Udoka’s season in Boston.

The Brooklyn Nets seriously considering hiring Udoka, who spent the 2021-22 season as an assistant on Steve Nash’s staff, after Nash’s early season departure. However, the Nets instead opted to promote assistant coach Jacque Vaughn.

The Rockets selected Udoka over other experienced candidates such as former Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel and ex-Charlotte Hornets head coach James Borrego.

Udoka inherits a team that will have a high lottery pick for the third consecutive season and plans to be aggressive in free agency with approximately $60 million in salary cap space.

“What we like about him is his ability to coach a basketball team, and then he’s going to hold these guys to toughness, respectability, accountability,” Fertitta said. “It’s everything how I like to run a business — structure and everybody having the right guy that they can communicate with.

“We’re just excited. It’s phase two. Phase two was getting ourselves back into the playoffs, learning how to win again. Hopefully soon I won’t be up here for anything except to tell you how great it was to win a championship. That’s in phase three. So, let’s have phase two right now. You had to crawl and now we’re going to walk and then we’re going to run. But we’re all expecting a lot.”

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski contributed to this story.

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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta at ease with Ime Udoka being coach