Heading into the final regular season game of the 2022-23 season, the Houston Rockets' front office grew tired of losing. The Rockets made the decision to part ways with then-head coach Stephen Silas (rightfully so) after seeing the team rack up loss after loss with no clear vision.
The Rockets went out and hired the hottest name on the coaching market in Ime Udoka, who wouldn't have otherwise been available were it not for an off-the-court scandal that prompted the Boston Celtics to part with the fourth-place finisher in the 2021-22 Coach of the Year race.
Udoka demands a high level of accountability from his players and has a defensive-minded approach, which the Rockets had reportedly been seeking, and rightfully so, as the team finished 29th in defensive efficiency in each of the last two seasons. The Rockets climbed the financial ladder to pay Udoka, giving him 28 million over four years (a higher average annual value than any other coach in franchise history), and decided to essentially allow him to cook, giving him roster influence.
Udoka wanted defensive-minded players, vets with championship experience, and a table-setter. And with $66 million in cap space, the Rockets had the money to go shopping without worrying about the price tag. This is how they landed Fred VanVleet, as they offered a three-year deal worth $130 million, which was a considerably higher number than what the Toronto Raptors were reportedly offering (3 years and $90 million).
This is also how the Rockets landed Dillon Brooks, as they gave him a four-year deal worth $86 million (which could potentially increase to $90 million with incentives). The Rockets had to overpay to overcome the "Rockets tax" so the numbers were a bit inflated.
But did the Rockets have to give Brooks that contract, when they already have Tari Eason waiting in the wings (at a much lower price)? Or did they break the bank just because Udoka wanted him?
Did they have to break to bank to get VanVleet just because Udoka wanted him or could they have opted for a cheaper alternative like Monte Morris, who could've been acquired for simply one second-round pick? (We know the Rockets don't have any issue throwing out second-round draft capital).
It's clear that the Rockets have essentially decided to succumb to Udoka's demands. If there was any doubt about this, the decision to pass on James Harden drove the point home.
Latest reports show troubling developments with Rockets, Udoka
According to well-respected NBA insiders, Udoka told the Rockets' brass that he didn't want Harden on the team, for multiple reasons. For one, Harden isn't nearly the defender as FVV at this stage of his career, and also Harden would prevent the type of free-flowing offense that Udoka wants to run.
It's hard to disagree with that decision or Udoka's logic. But should Udoka, a coach with only one year of head coaching experience, be given this type of power over the roster?
Could that be what made Udoka take the Rockets' job? If so, I guess you have to do whatever it takes to get your guy.
Sure, he made the NBA Finals in his lone season at the helm, but that Boston Celtics team had two legitimate All-NBA caliber talents (Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum). The Rockets obviously don't.
Again, if the Rockets had to give Udoka this sort of power over the roster because they wanted him that much, then by all means. Do what you have to do.
But it does appear....risky (to put it politely).