After a nightmarish start to the season, the Brooklyn Nets fired Steve Nash. While the decision is not official, they are reportedly expected to hire suspended Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka as his replacement.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nets “have been vetting the circumstances” around Udoka’s suspension. An independent law firm, however, found the “power dynamic” between Udoka and a female staffer was improper. They added that the coach used “crude language” with his subordinate before the inappropriate relationship began.
It violated multiple team policies and, per NetsDaily, it may have been repeated behavior. The Celtics will not ask the Nets for compensation in return for letting him leave for a division rival, according to reports.
It was surprising that Brooklyn would fire their head coach after a win. But as my colleague Prince Grimes wrote, Nash was coaching on borrowed time. Meanwhile, even despite the ugly ending to his tenure in Boston, Udoka was always the favorite to replace him.
Back in August, when news first broke that Durant wanted a new coach in Brooklyn, For The Win wrote about Udoka’s connection to the Nets. At the time, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Durant had “grown close” with Udoka. But we weren’t the only ones to notice the writing on the wall.
My old pal @stephenasmith has been saying since Opening Night that the Nets wanted to bring back ex-Nash assistant Ime Udoka as their next coach.
All indications point to Udoka — suspended for the season by the Celtics after taking them to the Finals — now getting that chance. https://t.co/46sFauvCng
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) November 1, 2022
Here is what Stephen A. Smith said about Udoka before the season:
“I believe that if Ime Udoka had been fired by the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets would have fired Steve Nash and brought that brother back and he would be the coach for the Brooklyn Nets right now. That’s how emphatic I feel about that.”
Smith is likely right, as The Athletic reported news that the Nets planned to hire Udoka less than two hours after initially reporting that Nash was fired.
But why were the Nets so willing to ignore allegations of workplace misconduct against Udoka in Boston? That answer is a bit uglier.
There are, of course, many qualified coaching candidates around the NBA who were not fired from their workplace due to misconduct. Woj, however, reported that the Nets believe Udoka can improve their defensive identity. Yikes! (For what it is worth: Woj and Udoka are both represented by CAA.)
"It doesn't matter if it's a new head coach or whether it's an intern. You're doing due diligence on everybody's background"
Sean Marks is asked about factoring in accountability into his head coach search. On Ime Udoka, Marks said he didn't want to give a list of candidates pic.twitter.com/deWoXQHuWN
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) November 1, 2022
The front office will eventually have to answer questions if their process leads them to Udoka, as expected, and what they learned when they vetted his actions in Boston. Of course, Nets executive Sean Marks recently said that they do “due diligence” on the background of anyone hired by the team.
When the Udoka announcement is officially made, the organization will likely suggest that, for basketball reasons, he was the best fit for the position.
But this decision all comes back to Marks, a former NBA player who won a championship when he played for the Spurs. He later became an assistant coach for the organization and then he worked in their front office, winning another championship in 2014.
As one former Nets assistant coach told HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto when Nash was hired in 2020, Marks “loves anything Spurs” and that Brooklyn’s general manager “would always talk about the Spurs’ way”.
(The Spurs, of course, may not have tolerated Udoka’s workplace behavior. Following allegations of sexual misconduct, they recently waived Josh Primo just one year after selecting him in the first round of the draft.)
Since taking over Brooklyn’s front office, the executive has “drawn heavily” from Popovich’s coaching tree in San Antonio. Brooklyn’s current coaching staff includes former Spurs big man Tiago Splitter. Nets interim head coach Jacque Vaughn was also an assistant for the Spurs.
The Nets considered Udoka as their head coach in 2020. His name emerged as a candidate for the job. They also considered hiring him before deciding on Kenny Atkinson in 2016.
Udoka played for the Spurs (twice) during his playing career, and during that time, he was teammates with Brooklyn assistant coaches Vaughn and Splitter.
He was later an assistant under Popovich for seven seasons, overlapping with Marks for several years, including the championship campaign in 2014.
One thing worth noting on Ime Udoka: when he was an assistant coach w/BKN, he wasn’t shy about coaching Kevin Durant & Kyrie Irving with an edge/challenging them, as SNY reported. Udoka is suspended for the season by BOS, reportedly for inappropriate conduct with female staffer
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) November 1, 2022
Before he was hired by the Celtics, Udoka worked as an assistant coach for the Nets in 2020-21. He then coached Durant as an assistant when Team USA won gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
Marks says Durant (or any other player) had no say in whether or not the team would fire Nash. Durant, however, made his opinion clear during the offseason when he gave the Nets an ultimatum about Nash. The fact that the superstar is reportedly a “huge fan” of Udoka, per SNY’s Ian Begley, likely does not hurt.
Udoka was known for “challenging” Durant and Irving and players on the team praised his “toughness” as a coach. He coached Ben Simmons during his tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers, too.
It’s fair if fans are eventually disappointed with how this was handled by the Nets. But with everything at play, unfortunately, no one should be surprised when Udoka gets the job.