With just a few weeks until the Celtics kick off their playoff run, head coach Ime Udoka has his team clicking on all cylinders on and off the court. As a first-year coach, Udoka did not have many expectations coming in. He never held a head coaching position, but his style and personality fit what former head coach Brad Stevens wanted for the teams' future. The coming years in Beantown were uncertain with a brand new coach. Nobody knew what he could do with the clipboard in his hands in the huddle, but in just his first season at the helm, he has solidified himself as a bonafide Coach of the Year candidate.
Coach of the Year is one of those awards that just does not have an exact answer to what it actually is. The majority of it is about the narrative of the season, and what the media prefers during the time of the vote. Do the voters lean more towards the consistency story like the Suns or an unexpected playoff team like the Cavaliers and J.B Bickerstaff?
In November and December, the Celtics went a mediocre 15-15 and looked a lot like the team last season that finished with a 36-36 record. In the last month of 2021, Boston was ranked 15th in offensive rating, and 18th in defensive rating. Teams were carving up the Celtics, and Boston was not moving the ball on the offensive end as it wanted to in order to create better shots which in turn hurt the shooting percentage. The Celtic team that played the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center on December 27 is a completely different team than the squad that sliced up the Nuggets in a 20 point victory this past week.
The majority of the credit for this reconstruction has to be Udoka and the mentality that he preached time and time again to the team. Boston's defense now is defined by making every shot that the opposition puts up as difficult as it can get. Switching, and moving as a unit to close the gaps, and prevent easy buckets in the lane. A lot of what he said at the beginning of the season was not executed to the specifications of what he would have wanted but everything seems to be coming together at a perfect time as the Celtics keep rocketing up the Eastern Conference standings.
With all of the fantastic coaches in the NBA this season, Udoka may not win the Coach of the Year, but he at least deserves some votes for all he has done in just his first season in charge. The last Boston coach to win the honor of Coach of the Year was the late Bill Fitch in the 1979-1980 season when he led the team to the number one seed in the Eastern Conference until losing to the 76ers and Julius Erving in the ECF. Brad Stevens never won it, Doc Rivers never won it, and KC Jones never won the award despite the successes all of these men had in the city of Boston.
This past week, star Jayson Tatum spoke about Ime Udoka, stating, "You just think about a first-year head coach in Boston, and you know with expectations, the rocky start that we had, and all the outside noise. What people expected us to be. As a coach in general that would have been tough, but especially a first-year...He was always uplifting everybody and kept the right mindset...kept the team afloat, cause we always felt like we were right there."
Whoever wins the award for the best coach this season in the NBA will without a doubt deserve it. Monty Williams in Phoniex is doing a marvelous job in the last two seasons with the Suns even thriving without star point guard Chris Paul. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has a case almost every season to win the award, as he again has his Heat team in the mix of contention once again. Other potential candidates include Mike Malone of the Denver Nuggets, having led a team without two of its top three players, or what Taylor Jenkins is doing with the upstart Memphis Grizzlies.
With a multitude of options that could win one of the hardest awards out there, Udoka may not receive the honors, but that will not take away from anything he has done. For years Boston has been a roller coaster of a team. One game, they look poised for success, and the next, it falls flat on its face. Even though it is a small sample size for Udoka so far, the arrow is finally pointed the right way. All the pieces have finally fit together in Boston, and Udoka is the glue that keeps them all in one piece.