The Boston Celtics have suspended Ime Udoka for an entire year and suspended the coach who led them to the NBA Finals last spring for the entire 2022-23 season over what two knowledgeable people said was an inappropriate relationship with a member of the organization.
The people spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team has not made that detail public. In a statement released Thursday night after a full day of bickering over the terms of the penalty, the Celtics said Udoka violated team policy and left open the possibility that a longer separation could follow.
“A decision about his future with the Celtics after this season will be made at a later date,” the team said.
Assistant coach Joe Mazzulla will take over as interim coach, according to one of the people who spoke with the AP. The defending Eastern Conference champions will hold a media day on Monday and open a training camp on Tuesday in preparation for the October 18 season opener.
In a statement published by ESPN, Udoka apologized “to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization and my family for disappointing.”
“I am sorry for putting the team in this difficult situation and I accept the team’s decision,” he said. “Out of respect for everyone involved, I will not comment further.”
An old assistant in his first NBA As head coach, Udoka led Boston to a 51-31 – 26-6 record in their last 32 games last season. The Celtics defeated Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami to advance to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.
The developments stunned the NBA and shocked a team that was among the favorites to compete for a championship this season. It would be an unprecedented 18th title for the franchise.
But in Boston, the story was reminiscent of the city’s turmoil in 2020, when Red Sox manager Alex Cora was banned for a year from Major League Baseball for his role in a sign theft scandal at his previous job with the Houston Astros. Instead, the parties parted ways.
After finishing last under Ron Roenicke in the pandemic shortened season, Cora was rehired and welcomed a year later.
It’s unclear if Udoka and the Celtics will be just as excited to reunite.
Udoka, 45, spent most of his NBA career at San Antonio, then joined Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s staff as an assistant. Udoka was on the Spurs staff from 2012 to 2019, winning it all in ’14, and he quickly found his way into short lists for open head coaching jobs.
He spent the 2019-20 season in Philadelphia and the 2020-21 season in Brooklyn before the Celtics hired him in June 2021 to succeed Brad Stevens – who moved to the front office. In the first year, Udoka finished fourth in the voting for Coach of the Year and the Celtics came within two championship wins.
“The future is bright and we are just getting started,” Udoka said after the NBA final.
The bomb on the eve of training camp is the latest twist in what was to be a promising season for the NBA’s most awarded franchise.
The Celtics bolstered their runner-up roster by signing guard Malcolm Brogdon in a trade from Indiana, adding sharpshooting veteran Danilo Gallinari as a free agent. But last month, Gallinari tore the ACL in his left knee and will be out next season.
Center Robert Williams, a key part of the Boston defense who played through injury during last season’s playoffs, is still battling knee pain and is expected to miss the start of the season.
The Celtics were also mentioned in speculation about a new home for Brooklyn forward Kevin Durant, a perennial All-Star who asked for — and then withdrew — a request to be traded. Though the talks came to nothing, they raised questions about Boston’s devotion to young star Jaylen Brown.
It is also the second major disciplinary situation in as many weeks in the NBA as Commissioner Adam Silver decided last week to suspend Robert Sarver — the owner of the Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury — for one year and a $10 million fine after an investigation revealed his pattern of disturbing workplace behavior, including abusive and racist language. Sarver said on Wednesday that he plans to sell his teams.
Mazzulla interviewed for the Utah Jazz coaching job this summer, a position that eventually went to Will Hardy—another assistant to Udoka in Boston last season.
Mazzulla’s only previous head coach experience is a two-year stint with Fairmont State in Division II in West Virginia, where he turned 43-17 and made it to the NCAA tournament in his sophomore season. A native of New Englander from Rhode Island, Mazzulla played in West Virginia, was an assistant to the Celtics’ G League team before taking over at Fairmont State, then was rehired by the Celtics in June 2019 to join the Celtics. of Stevens’ staff.
Mazzulla’s last game at Fairmont State was against Mercyhurst. His first real game with the Celtics will draw a little more attention: Boston is slated to host longtime rival Philadelphia in the opener, when they will tip a year-long tribute to Hall of Famer Bill Russell.