Could Mike Budenholzer join Ime Udoka's staff with the Rockets?
During Ime Udoka's introductory press conference with the Houston Rockets, the former Boston Celtics coach was asked about the staff he intends to formulate. The Gregg Popovich disciple gave a simple answer.
"I want an energetic staff, very hands-on and relationship-based able to relate to the players."
Udoka stated that this was his approach towards concocting his first ever coaching staff in Boston and that he would look to do the same in the Space City. Udoka added that he would first speak with the assistants that were on former Rockets coach Stephen Silas' staff, as he had heard good things about many of them.
Udoka's staff in Boston included Damon Stoudamire, Will Hardy, Ben Sullivan, Joe Mazzulla, Aaron Miles, and Tony Dobbins, followed by a four-member player enhancement staff that included Evan Bradds, Garrett Jackson, DJ MacLeay, Matt Reynolds, and Steve Tchiengang. Of those names, Stoudamire, Hardy, and Mazzulla have all accepted head coaching positions, as Mazzulla succeeded Udoka in Boston, Hardy accepted the Utah Jazz position last summer, and Stoudamire accepted the Georgia Tech head coaching job.
Sullivan, Miles, and Dobbins all remained in Boston, serving as assistants on Mazzulla's staff. One would imagine Udoka would have an interest in speaking with those three about possibly joining the Rockets. Of the enhancement staff, Bradds followed Hardy to Utah, while Jackson, MacLeay, and Reynolds all currently serve as assistants under Mazzulla. But just as sure as Udoka is to look for younger, energetic coaches, he'd also need a veteran, proven coach on his staff, much like John Lucas and Lionel Hollins were for Silas.
And while those two may have intrigue to Udoka, the best name he could possibly find is newly-ousted Mike Budenholzer, who is under the Popovich coaching tree, like Udoka. The two coached together in San Antonio together in 2012-13, before Budenholzer got plucked to become the Atlanta Hawks head coach in the summer of 2013.
Now I know what you're thinking: there's no way Budenholzer takes a back seat and chooses to be an assistant coach, after winning a championship just two seasons ago, not to mention the fact that he's won two Coach of the Year awards, dating back to 2014. I'm not suggesting it will happen, but rather stating that it could happen.
Much like former Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni left the Rockets in 2020 and joined Steve Nash's staff with the Brooklyn Nets as an assistant. D'Antoni was much older, sure, but he did still take a voluntary demotion.
Could Mike Budenholzer land on Ime Udoka's staff in Houston?
Budenholzer could opt to take a year off after being ousted, much like former Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel, and decide against coaching altogether in 2023-24. But if he aspires to be a head coach next season, his options would seem to be limited to just the Toronto Raptors, who recently parted with Nick Nurse.
The Raptors have been linked to Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon, who also comes from the Popovich tree, in addition to Adrian Griffin, the longtime assistant under Nurse. Beyond Toronto, the only other vacancy is the Detroit Pistons, who are in a rebuilding phase and seem to be looking for younger, upbeat first-time head coaches, which would disqualify Budenholzer.
Granted, the Phoenix Suns could potentially decide to bring in a new coach, if new owner Mat Ishbia wants to bring in his own guy, but it would seem that he'd want to give Monty Williams more time, especially since they made the blockbuster trade for Kevin Durant midway through the season and didn't have much time to assimilate Durant into the fold, as he only played eight regular season games with the franchise due to injury.
So if Budenholzer does join the Rockets as an assistant, it would only be because there aren't any head coaching jobs that are fits for him. And even then, it would seem that he would serve as an assistant on Popovich's staff, seeking the opportunity to serve as Popovich's successor, should he choose to return to the San Antonio Spurs for another year.
But again, crazier things have happened. Granted, Budenholzer would only serve as an assistant with the Rockets for one season, if this dream scenario does indeed materialize, as he'd hit the market one year later, in hopes of landing a more ideal gig.
But one year of a Budenholzer-Udoka pairing would do wonders for the young Rockets core of Alperen Sengun, Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., and Kevin Porter Jr. Just imagine how much better that would make them, both on and off the court.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta would certainly have to break the bank for this to have any chance of happening, but he's made it known that he wants to see the Rockets get back into the upper elite teams in the Western Conference, and he spent big to get Udoka, so that seems feasible.
Let's hope there's at least a possibility of Budenholzer joining Udoka's staff. Or as Fertitta might say, Pray for Budenholzer.