Ime Udoka, who was an assistant for the Nets this season, is nearing an agreement to become the next head coach of the Boston Celtics, a person familiar with the discussions but not authorized to discuss them publicly said on Wednesday.
Udoka spent seven years as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich and one season as an assistant in Philadelphia before coming to the Nets. He also played in the N.B.A. as a reserve for seven years, including spurts with the Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers and three seasons with the Spurs.
The news of the impending hiring was first reported by ESPN.
This will be the second high-profile move made by the new Celtics team president, Brad Stevens, who was unexpectedly thrust into the role this month. His predecessor, Danny Ainge, stepped down after the Nets knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs in the first round.
Stevens had coached the team for the last eight years, but this season had been a particularly tumultuous one for the Celtics, who were besieged by injuries and an ill-fitting roster that lacked depth. Boston’s best player, the All-Star Jayson Tatum, also dealt with lingering effects from Covid-19. After making the Eastern Conference finals in 2019-20, the Celtics had to fight just to get into the playoffs and finished the season at 36-36.
Udoka, 43, will inherit a team centered on two All-Star wings, Tatum and Jaylen Brown. In his first major move as team president, Stevens last week traded Kemba Walker, who was the team’s starting point guard, and Boston’s 2021 first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Al Horford and Moses Brown, an up-and-coming center. The move increased the Celtics’ financial flexibility.
At the news conference announcing his promotion, Stevens said of the coaching search: “I think that the good news about whoever we hire, they don’t have to fill Doc Rivers’s shoes like I did, and they don’t have to fill Danny Ainge’s shoes now like I do. The good news is they have to figure out a way to be better than the last guy.”
Udoka, who is Nigerian American, will become the sixth Black coach in the history of the franchise. The others were Rivers (2004-13), M.L. Carr (1995-97), K.C. Jones (1983-88), Tom Sanders (1978) and Bill Russell (1966-69).
In a league that has been criticized for predominantly hiring white coaches, even though more than 70 percent of players are Black, Udoka will be one of nine nonwhite head coaches. (This does not include Nate McMillan, who is Black and the interim head coach of the Atlanta Hawks.) Udoka will be coaching in a city that was once again in the spotlight for its treatment of Black athletes, during this year’s playoffs. Kyrie Irving, who played for the Celtics from 2017 to 2019, suggested that he had heard racist comments from fans during his time in Boston and said that he hoped he wouldn’t hear them as a member of the Nets.
There are six other head coaching vacancies across the league, in Portland, Orlando, Indiana, New Orleans, Washington and Dallas.