The time is coming for Ime Udoka, whether it’s with the Pistons or another NBA team.
Udoka, an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, appears to be one of the finalists to become the head coach of the Pistons, along with Michigan coach John Beilein and former Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, a trio first identified in a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday.
At age 40, Udoka is one of the up-and-coming coaching prospects making the rounds this spring, having also interviewed with the Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic for their open positions.
The Pistons’ job could be the one he finally lands. Though he’s up against two very worthy head coaches, Udoka has grown under Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and is regarded as one of the top young assistants in the league.
Other former Popovich assistants, such as Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic), Mike Brown (Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers) and Alvin Gentry (New Orleans Pelicans), Brett Brown (Philadelphia 76ers) and James Borrego (Charlotte Hornets) have ascended to become NBA head coaches.
Udoka could be next — eventually.
Even moving forward as a finalist for the Pistons’ job is something of a step forward for Udoka, who has been an assistant since 2012 and played seven years in the NBA, including three with the Spurs, from 2007-09 and 2010-11. Udoka’s relationship with former teammate LaMarcus Aldridge was one of the keys to the All-Star center's decision to sign a free-agent deal with the Spurs in 2015.
Udoka is known for his relationships with Spurs players — and that calling card could be what is endearing him to the Pistons in their interview process. Since hiring senior advisor Ed Stefanski two weeks ago, the Pistons have cast a wide net in assembling an impressive list of candidates for head coach, including TNT analyst Kenny Smith and Miami Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard.
Though there were bigger names in the candidate pool, Udoka outlasted a few of them to make it to the final stage of interviews. After meeting with Stefanski and consultants Jim Lynam and Bernie Bickerstaff in the early rounds, the next stage includes a meeting with Tom Gores in Los Angeles.
The Pistons’ timeline in interviews — with additional meetings with Beilein, Casey and Udoka within the past week — suggests they could be nearing a final decision in the next few days, after which they could move on to the next task.
After parting ways last month with Stan Van Gundy, who was the team president and head coach, the Pistons are looking to rebuild their front office and coaching staff. They appear to be prioritizing hiring a head coach over the head of their front office.
One of the reported names in their front-office search, Nets assistant general manager Trajan Langdon, has another Spurs connection, as a pro scout from 2012-15.
The synergy from hiring several former members of the Spurs’ organization could be a formula that mimics what the Lions have done in picking from the New England Patriots’ staff, with general manager Bob Quinn and a former assistant in Matt Patricia.
Moreover, choosing Udoka — and Langdon — could signal that the Pistons are looking to make a long-term commitment in hiring a younger combination of coach and general manager, who could grow into their respective roles and be similar to what the Boston Celtics have done with president Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens, who is just 41.