5. Ime Udoka
Ime Udoka played in the NBA for a total of seven seasons, as he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, and Sacramento Kings. Udoka played in the 2004 NBA Finals as a member of the Lakers and played for legendary coaches Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich during his playing career.
Udoka also played two additional seasons in Argentina and transitioned into coaching during the 2012-13 season, at which point he joined Popovich’s staff as an assistant. The Spurs reached the NBA Finals from 2012-2014 with Udoka on the staff and won the championship during the 2013-14 season. Popovich was high on Udoka, as he kept him around for seven seasons. Udoka credited Popovich and the Spurs’ organization for his development also.
The player-turned-coach stated, “The one thing that Pop stressed a lot is to be yourself. The fundamentals, the basics, and your foundations of basketball is the kind that we all agree with but you have to put your own personal touch on it and be authentic.
I’m not trying to be Pop. I’ve learned a ton from him and you take those things forever with you but you have to be yourself and be authentic. You have to be yourself, knowing that winning basketball is what we all learned the right way, but you have to be your own person at the end of the day.”
Udoka left the Spurs prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, as he was promoted to lead assistant under then Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown’s staff. At just 43 years old, Udoka can certainly relate to the players better than most, as especially considering the amount of time he played in the NBA.
Udoka also played alongside superstar players, such as Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton, which is quite the list of Hall of Famers. Udoka has also coached All-Stars such as Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid, which is also an impressive list.
This certainly bodes well for his ability to manage the superstar egos and personalities of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and his journeyman-like foray across the league will help him relate to the role players, which oftentimes make the difference in a championship team. Udoka has never been a part of a team that didn’t make the postseason throughout his coaching career and he could present a much more energetic coach than what the Rockets have grown accustomed to with Kevin McHale and Mike D’Antoni over the years.
Next: No. 4