Boston Celtics: Ime Udoka May Be the NBA’s Best Coach, but Voters Were Right Not Naming Him Coach of the Year

Nobody expected this. After a major offseason shakeup, the Boston Celtics find themselves one win away from heading to the NBA Finals. With a new president of basketball operations and a new coach, a championship season wasn’t on the minds of many.

Not too many knew Ime Udoka, who was hired for his first NBA head coaching gig. Brad Stevens hired Udoka to replace himself after Stevens replaced Danny Ainge in the front office. Ainge’s resignation after 18 years in the Boston front office triggered the shakeup.

Udoka has done wonders with the Celtics. He has a defensive-minded approach that’s played a major role in getting them to where they are. Udoka may very well be the NBA’s coach, but they got it right when he wasn’t named Coach of the Year.

Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka finished fourth in the NBA Coach of the Year voting

Head coach Ime Udoka of the Boston Celtics reacts against the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at FTX Arena on May 19, 2022, in Miami, Florida. | Michael Reaves/Getty Images.

Udoka had never been a head coach in the NBA, but he learned from one of the best. He was an assistant to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich from 2012 to 19. Udoka then spent a year as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers and another with the Brooklyn Nets before latching on with Boston.

The Celtics were fresh off an underachieving season, finishing 36-36. The Nets made quick work of the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, eliminating them in five games.

Ainge then resigned from his position of president of basketball operations, creating a musical-chairs effect. It took Udoka a while to get things rolling in Boston. For 50 games, it appeared the Celtics were the same old team. They were 25-25 after finishing right at the .500 mark the previous year.

The Celtics then got hot at the right time. They turned things up a notch and clinched the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference on the final night of the regular season.

Udoka finished fourth in the Coach of the Year voting. Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns won the award after guiding his team to a 64-18 record and the top seed in the West. Taylor Jenkins, who guided the Memphis Grizzlies to a 56-26 mark, finished second. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, considered by many as the best in the game today, finished third.

Udoka might be the best, but the voters got it right

The results appeared to have irked many in the Boston area. Many believe he should have won the award or finished in the top three.

Udoka may be the best coach now, but the voters got it right.

Like most awards, Coach of the Year is a regular-season award. For more than half the season, the Celtics were mediocre at best. In fact, things were pretty ugly early in Boston.

On multiple occasions, Udoka questioned the effort of his team, especially after blowing big second-half leads. If effort is a problem, especially on several occasions, that’s on the coach. Watching 20-point leads in the second half happen multiple times is also on the coach.

Udoka, like the Celtics, struggled early, but he figured things out. It wasn’t until mid-January when the Celtics began to turn their season around. Udoka said it was after another blown lead — against the New York Knicks — that may have sparked the turnaround.

After that game, he questioned his team’s mental toughness. He challenged them. For the last 32 games of the regular season, Boston went 26-6 and was the hottest team in the league.

Under Williams, the Suns played that way all season. The Grizzlies came out of nowhere and won 56 games with a team not nearly as talented as the Celtics. Spoelstra guided the Heat to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. All three of those coaches shined from the get-go. Thirty-two games isn’t enough to get you Coach of the Year.

If the Coach of the Year Award was given after the postseason, Udoka likely wins it. He is most responsible for turning things around in Boston.

The other three coaches didn’t have to turn anything around.

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