June 1, 2022
Q. After you left San Antonio, you went to a couple pretty intense situations in Philly and Brooklyn. How much did the experiences you went through there prepare you for the roller coaster that you were about to get on with this season? And if you applied any of it, it's well-chronicled, obviously you guys have been really good the last 50 games, and you were struggling the first 50 for a lot of reasons. How much did going those situations help you out at the start of this year?
IME UDOKA: I've stated quite a number of times how beneficial it was to get out of San Antonio and get back to the real NBA. I think seven years in San Antonio and the foundation and the base of who I am as a coach and who I was as a player was beneficial, but to leave for those two years was probably just as much, if not more invaluable for my preparation to be a head coach, due to a lot of reasons. You know, some situations, obviously, in Philadelphia with winning on the line and getting fired after that; Brooklyn, an intense situation with a win-now mentality and superstar players. I think all that bode well for me going forward.
Like I said, San Antonio is a little bit of fairy tale, boy scouts, and do whatever you ask. I needed to get back to the real side of the NBA that I was in as a player. I think that helped me navigate some of the things earlier this year.
Q. Your first taste of the NBA came with the Lakers and on a ten-day deal. You mentioned San Antonio was the foundation of who you were as a player, but what do you remember about that ten-day span, that first real taste of this league? How did that inform the rest of your career?
IME UDOKA: Yeah, I had a really good training camp in Hawai'i that year when Payton and Malone came. It was I think the last cut to some veteran guys, Bryon Russell and some of those guys they brought along. So I was confident in what I did there. Kobe's shoulder popped out and they called me up and got on a red-eye to play against Denver.
But in the first game and even in that ten-day I played well enough to probably stick. I hear that was the plan. So it kind of just boosted my confidence. We had some injuries to bigs and had to replace some bigs, and I was a casualty of that. But more so than anything, it built up my confidence of what I had been doing, my preparation to play in the league and kind of gave me a fire to get back there.
L.A. has always been a special place to me. Being from the West Coast and being from Portland originally, first place I played and first taste of the NBA, like I said, motivated me and drove me to get back.
Q. To be at this point, obviously there's more to do, and the job isn't done, but that it could have started with a ten-day thing, do you think about if those ten days had gone differently how things could have been different?
IME UDOKA: No. I never look at it like that. I figure whatever route I've taken, it was going to start somewhere. That was my belief in myself, and so if it wasn't L.A., it would have been somewhere else. I had a few call-ups that fell through on the way, so I was very close for a while.
And even going back to my Portland stint is what kick-started me in the league full time. You know, there were ups and downs along the way, and if not for that situation, I was going to kick the door down at some point regardless.
Q. How much does experience really matter once you compete in the NBA Finals?
IME UDOKA: I think once you get out of the initial media circus and the intensity and how everything is much more exaggerated, obviously it's not much different when you get on the court. You have guys that are young but have been through a few Eastern Conference Finals already, and our path this year, you know, two Game 7s and playing some high-level teams and taking a tough route, I think that's prepared us more than anything.
I coached in two Finals my first two years in the league and got to the Conference Finals as a player myself. As coaches, we've been through it and won championships ourselves. We can kind of give advice on what's to come.
But once we get out there, what's really been good about our group is they are not caught up in the moment, the Game 7s, playing on the road. You see our record, and more so than anything, it's just basketball at the end of the day. That's what we try to stress, and that's the benefit of our group being so young and approaching it that way.
Q. Ime, when you viewed for the job, what were the conversations with Brad like, and what are some of the important aspects of your relationship with Brad that allowed some of this to happen?
IME UDOKA: More so than anything, it wasn't about -- obviously you talk about the expectations and the standard of the organization, but really basketball philosophy and where we wanted to go as an organization and the way I thought the game on both ends, the way I related to people was a big part of it, and how we could push the group forward.
So very natural in the interview process, the original Zooms and in person. With Brad, we hit it off from the get-go and thought the same way. We obviously felt comfortable, and there were some benefits of working with somebody who feels the same way.
With him, it's been great. Different situation that a lot of people may not think is appealing, but I think it's only a benefit to have a guy that's coached for seven, eight years in the building with the same guys down the hall, talk about every situation he's been through and kind of lend his support as far as that. But also step back and let me do my thing. I think it's only been an added benefit, and in a unique situation, it's helped out this year for sure.
Q. I heard what you said yesterday about Smart and Williams, but how do you plan on listing them for tomorrow's game? And assuming Marcus is questionable tomorrow, does he have a chance to play his way off the injury report, or is this an injury that is going to slow him down for the whole series?
IME UDOKA: No, Marcus is different than Rob. It's a sprained ankle and once the swelling goes down and the pain goes down, that can obviously improve his situation as far as that.
Rob is a little different coming off the surgery and the amount of games in that 17-day span, every other day, and the toll it took, just naturally, besides the bone bruise he took against Antetokounmpo. So his will be listed as day to day the rest of the way, how he reacts on it. We've kept his minutes lower in the last few games against Miami, and his availability has been up and down based on that game.
He's a true day-to-day situation, where Marcus is specifically a rolled ankle, and that will get better as time goes.
Q. They are both questionable for tomorrow?
IME UDOKA: They are both, yes.
Q. You talked about your time in San Antonio. Have you been in touch with Pop at all, and what advice has he given to you?
IME UDOKA: We haven't talked yet. We text. I missed him on the call. He left me a voicemail on the plane yesterday. I know he's watching through other people letting me know. And I've said it this year, as an assistant with him, I saw how he was bothered throughout the playoffs for years by other assistants that left, and I said I was never going to be the guy to do that.
Haven't really talked to him much other than we played them had some dinners this year. I know he's watching. He left a nice voicemail after we made it. We'll talk at some point.
He has helped me throughout my career, and he understands what the situation is, being through it so many times himself; that he's pretty similar to me as far as that, not trying to bother anybody. And so I know he's supporting, and I've heard through other people. We'll talk at some point.
Q. You've talked about the different styles of leadership on the roster, but Marcus starts the year kind of calling out Jayson and Jaylen for their playmaking. January, he has a moment where he tells everybody he loves them. Seems like he's trying to find that sweet spot of tough love or going easier on guys. And I'm sure you've gone through the same thing. What's that process been like of not just Smart but everybody finding the harder way to do things leadership-wise or maybe the more soft hand?
IME UDOKA: Guys are who they are. Marcus is emotional as a player and the things he says and the way he plays and wears it on his sleeve. He may go about it a different way than others, but he is who he is. And we encourage guys to speak up.
The thing about the Chicago game was that nothing said publicly had not been said privately. Although it may rub people wrong because it was said publicly, that was something we were working on behind the scenes every day, film session, one-on-one sessions. We all understood the areas we need to improve. That was what it was and we moved past that pretty quickly.
But Marcus as well as the others, their leadership and being vocal has been invaluable to the group. Him and Al are the more vocal two, but Jayson and Jaylen have grown in that area and do it their own way. We love them for who they are and let them be who they are, and that mix of leadership and different styles benefits our team.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports