Ime Udoka preferred Rockets job over '5-seed ceiling' Raptors

"This is more attractive than a lot of the mid-level teams."

We now have some clarity about why Ime Udoka chose to join the Houston Rockets, and Toronto Raptors fans won't be happy.

Udoka spoke to reporters on Wednesday for the first time since he was hired as the new head coach of the Rockets, and shed some light on his decision to take on the role, despite interest from other teams, including the Raptors.

"This is more attractive than a lot of the mid-level teams that kinda have that ceiling, that 5-seed ceiling," Udoka said. "From the teams that did reach out, I'd rather start with a young core group and try to build something great here."

After firing Nick Nurse last week, Udoka was reportedly a serious candidate to take over on Toronto's bench. Nurse also had strong reports linking him to the Rockets job, before it was announced that the former Boston Celtics skipper took the job.

The Raptors now turn their attention elsewhere in the search for a new head coach. Assistant coach Adrian Griffin will reportedly receive an interview for the top job, while former assistant Jerry Stackhouse is another candidate linked to the vacancy.

Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka directs his players from the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Udoka, 45, is coming off a one-year suspension from the Celtics after he was found to have had an "improper consensual relationship with a female member of the team staff." While he refused to go into detail about the situation, he did reflect on the last eight months since stepping away from Boston.

“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.”

Meanwhile, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta reassured those at the press conference that the NBA approved of the hiring, and that there was no pushback within the organization.

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

"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."

Houston, who finished the season in 28th position with a 22-60 record, have a promising young core after picking in the lottery for the past few drafts. Guards Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. have displayed impressive shot-making capabilities, while forwards Alperen Sengun and Jabari Smith Jr. have the potential to be difference-makers at the NBA level.

"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."