Ime Udoka Leaving Celtics Past Behind With Rockets: ‘Hasn’t Come Up’

Ex-Celtics coach Ime Udoka (right) of the Houston Rockets

Getty Ex-Celtics coach Ime Udoka (right) of the Houston Rockets

The distance between Houston and Boston is some 1,600 miles as the crow flies.

It may seem even further as the Ime Udoka travels.

The season may be way too young for conclusions, but after Udoka was suspended and ultimately let go by the Celtics and the Rockets were 20-62, both are no doubt welcoming the 3-3 start.

“What happened in Boston is what happened in Boston,” one Rockets source told Heavy Sports. “It hasn’t come up with anyone. And this team hasn’t been 3-3 in I don’t know how many years — three, four years?”

The Rockets lost nine of their first 10 last season and 15 of their first 16 the year before. They were 2-4 after six in 2020-21 and, yes, 3-3, to start 2019-20, Mike D’Antoni’s last year on the Rocket bench.

Ime Udoka Now Has Fred VanVleet With Rockets

For the Rockets, Ime Udoka isn’t the only key addition. Though building with promising kids, the club signed 29-year-old free agent Fred VanVleet, ex of the Raptors to lead from within.

Back in April, he’d expressed his frustration with getting some Toronto mates to live up to their talent, telling Heavy Sports, “I’ve been screaming it for two years, you know what I mean? I think that at a certain point you can’t make anybody grow up. It’s going to happen at their own pace and their own speed, and that’s the frustrating part about maturity and just the development stage is that you can harp on it all you want to.”

He was apparently determined to get things in order when he arrived in Houston. According to a source, he was telling people, “Man, all this s*** that’s been going on around here, that’s all gonna change. I’m makin’ sure of that.”

Thus far, VanVleet has been backing it up on the floor to the extent that he’s shooting less and assisting more than he did last year. He seems to be bringing the promising youth along and setting an example.

“He’s exactly what that group of guys needed,” said a league source. “Young guys all want to establish themselves when they show up in the league, and the way (VanVleet) plays shows them they can still get theirs — and get it easier — if they work through each other. And once a young guy starts to taste a little success, that’s a great motivator in itself.”

Rockets Assist Numbers Already Improved

With, again, the caveat that it’s a small sample, the Rockets do appear to be playing more as a team.

“The stat that everyone’s talking about with Ime, because it’s kind of followed him from Boston to now, is the assists to turnover ratio,” said the source, “His teams have historically been high in the league in assists, and with that comes everyone touching the ball and getting shots and being happy.”

After averaging 22.4 assists and 16.2 turnovers last season, the Rockets are averaging 27.0 assists and 13.8 turnovers. They have five players averaging between 14.2 and 18.2 points. One of the latter is center Alperen Sengun.

“This team hasn’t thrown the ball in the post and played through a big man this much since Yao Ming,” said the Rocket source. “It’s been all James Harden and one-on-one stuff, and it stayed a lot that way even after James left. Ime’s changed that and it’s been really good.”


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