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By KRISTIE RIEKEN | AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — Ime Udoka has been hired as the new coach of the Houston Rockets, a source familiar with the deal told The Associated Press on Monday.
Udoka led the Celtics to the NBA Finals last season, then was suspended for this season after the disclosure of an inappropriate relationship with a female Celtics employee.
The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the team had not officially announced the move.
He replaces Stephen Silas, who was fired after three seasons.
The Rockets had the worst record in the previous two seasons and finished tied with the Spurs for the second-worst record this season, earning another lottery pick in this year’s draft.
The 45-year-old Udoka led the Celtics to a 51-31 record in his one season in Boston. The Celtics finished the regular season on a 26-6 run and beat Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami in the playoffs before falling to Golden State in six games in the NBA Finals.
Udoka wasn’t drafted and played professionally in Europe ahead of a seven-year NBA career that included short stints with the Los Angeles Lakers, Knicks and Trail Blazers before he spent three of his last four years with the Spurs.
He then joined coach Gregg Popovich’s staff as an assistant, working with San Antonio from 2012-19. Udoka then spent one season each as an assistant with the 76ers and Nets before being hired to replace Brad Stevens in Boston.
Udoka was a candidate to replace Nick Nurse in Toronto before being hired by the Rockets over candidates that included Nurse, Sam Cassell and Frank Vogel.
Udoka takes over a team that made the playoffs in eight straight seasons before the trade of James Harden in January 2021 led to a complete rebuild. General manager Rafael Stone said this month that he plans to pursue some veteran free agents this offseason to add to Houston’s young talent as the Rockets try to turn things around.
The Rockets hope to build their team around Jalen Green, the third pick in the 2021 draft and Jabari Smith, taken second in 2022. And they’ll get to add another top player this year as one of three teams with the best odds to win the draft lottery and get the No. 1 pick at 14%.
Terms of Udoka’s deal were not immediately available.