Former Udoka players No. 4: Marcus Smart
If there is one player on this list with the strongest connection to Ime Udoka, it would have to be Marcus Smart. Last year, with Udoka as his coach, Marcus Smart had the best offensive season of his career and won Defensive Player of the Year. Whatever the relationship between Smart and Udoka, it clearly worked for the hard-nosed point guard.
This season was a bit rockier for Smart; he still played well, but the Celtics also saw the impact of Derrick White as a player with most of Smart's defensive impact and more offensive versatility. With Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum heading towards massive paydays (more on that in a few slides) the Celtics may be open to a big offer from another team to reduce some costs and recoup some assets.
That's the opening Houston could leap through to add a difference-maker to their backcourt. Smart has grown up in the NBA as a do-it-all guard playing alongside other ball-dominant players, which would help him ease into a role alongside Jalen Green. Defensively, Smart's defense at the point-of-attack is legendary, and his strength and length allow him to switch onto larger players or cross-match to cover up for the weaker defenders in a lineup.
Smart has three more seasons remaining on his contract and will make $18.6 million next season (rising to $21.3 in 2025-26). The Rockets can easily afford that now, and Smart will still be in his early 30s by that final season. Udoka and Smart were tremendous together last season, and they could be again in Houston.