Ime Udoka declines to detail Celtics exit during Rockets intro; Tilman Fertitta says NBA approved hiring

The Houston Rockets officially introduced Ime Udoka as the franchise’s new head coach Wednesday. Although the team reportedly “probed the circumstances around” Udoka's departure from the Boston Celtics before deciding to hire him, his introductory news conference didn't shed much light there.

Owner Tilman Fertitta opened the conference with optimistic statements about the potential for the franchise's young core and its nearly $60 million in cap space. He cited Udoka as "everything the Rockets were looking for" to bring the team into its "next phase."

"We did so much due diligence on this gentleman, going back to his playing days," Fertitta said. "We just got a glowing report, and we’re extremely, extremely happy.”

Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Former Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka is starting fresh in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The first question asked was in reference to Udoka's indefinite suspension from the Celtics. It has been eight months since the team found him to be in violation of multiple team policies relating to a relationship with a female staffer. Udoka didn't detail what transpired, but he did express regret.

“I released a statement months ago when everything happened and apologized to a lot of people for the tough position I put them in,” Udoka said. “I stand by that, and I feel much more remorse even now towards that. I’ve spent this last offseason working on myself in a lot of different ways, improving in areas with a chance to sit back, reflect and grow. I think that will make me a better coach and a better leader. But the matter has been resolved, and I can’t really speak much about it.”

Later, Fertitta and general manager Rafael Stone attempted to address the league's initial investigation into Udoka's misconduct. Stone mentioned that he felt it was "not appropriate" to discuss how the team looked into the situation. Meanwhile, Fertitta highlighted the league's approval.

“The NBA told me they felt very comfortable with Ime becoming the new coach of the Houston Rockets,” Fertitta said.

Eventually facing some pushback on the vague answers, Fertitta took an interesting departure. "They're not a good Christian person," he said of any Rockets ticket holder who might not approve of Udoka's hiring.

"I discussed it with the president of our organization, who is a woman, and she was very comfortable with the situation," he added. “We’re a forgiving world, and anybody that isn’t forgiving, then shame on them."

While that answer likely won't satisfy concerned fans, it's clear the team is attempting to move forward. Udoka led the Celtics to the NBA Finals in his first season with the team. Now, he has high hopes for the Rockets' ceiling.

"I took a big look at the landscape of what we have here in Houston," Udoka said. "Obviously, it's a destination that's very attractive to players. And the young talent — sky's the limit as far as that's concerned. They've done a good job building for the future."

He also applauded Kevin Porter Jr., who was the only member of the team to attend the conference.