The Houston Rockets plan to hire Ime Udoka, the former Boston Celtics coach who was suspended for workplace misconduct, according to a person who was familiar with the discussions but not authorized to discuss them publicly.
The news was first reported by ESPN.
The Celtics abruptly suspended Udoka for the 2022-23 N.B.A. season in late September after an investigation into his conduct by an independent law firm. According to two people with knowledge of the situation, Udoka had a relationship with a female subordinate. The Celtics have declined to release details about Udoka’s conduct, other than to say that he had violated “multiple” team policies. In February, the Celtics fired Udoka, one of the people said.
Udoka had taken the Celtics to the N.B.A. finals last season in his first year as a head coach, after spending nine years as an assistant.
Since his suspension, Udoka has been linked with several teams for potential head coach openings. In particular, reports that Udoka was a front-runner for the Nets job surfaced within hours of Steve Nash’s dismissal in November. Udoka had been a Nets assistant in the 2020-21 season. Instead, the Nets hired Jacque Vaughn, one of Nash’s assistants, as their coach.
With the Celtics, Udoka developed a reputation for being willing to hold players accountable. His approach gained him the respect of the team, and some of the top players continued to publicly support him after his suspension. Forward Jayson Tatum told reporters in February that Udoka was “probably like my most favorite coach I’ve had and that’s not a knock on anybody.” Guard Jaylen Brown told The Ringer in an interview published in March that he was “a little bit shocked” by Udoka’s suspension.
“So, whether you stood on this side or this side, they was going to find wrong from a coach that I advocated to bring here to Boston,” Brown said. “I wanted to see him back on his feet here, no matter what it was. I don’t think that’s the wrong thing to feel.”
The Celtics replaced Udoka with one of his assistants, Joe Mazzulla, and finished the regular season with the second-best record in the league. The team leads the Atlanta Hawks, 3-1, in their first-round playoff series.
The Rockets were one of the worst teams in the N.B.A. this season at 22-60. They ranked near the bottom of the league in both offense and defense. In three seasons as Houston’s head coach, Stephen Silas went 59-177. On April 10, the Rockets declined his option for next season.
The Rockets have several talented young players, including Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green. In addition, the Rockets are projected to have enough salary cap space to sign at least one star to a maximum contract this summer, and they have a bevy of future draft picks. Houston, Detroit and San Antonio each have a 14 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick in June’s N.B.A. draft. Victor Wembanyama, the highly rated French prospect, is widely expected to be picked first overall.