The Boston Celtics suspended Ime Udoka for a full year, disqualifying the manager who led them to the NBA Finals last spring for the entire 2022-23 season for what two experts on the subject said was an improper relationship with a member of the organization.
People spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not disclose that detail publicly. In a statement released Thursday night after a full day of discussions over the terms of the punishment, the Celtics said Udoka violated the team’s policies and left open the possibility that he could follow a longer separation.
“A decision about his future with the Celtics beyond this season will be made at a later date,” the team said.
Assistant coach Joe Mazzulla will take on the role of interim manager, said one of the people who spoke to the AP. Reigning Eastern Conference champions will hold media day on Monday and open training camp on Tuesday in preparation for the October 18th season opener.
In a statement released by ESPN, Udoka apologized “to our players, the fans, the entire Celtics organization and my family for letting them down.”
“I’m 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 have no further comments.”
Longtime assistant in his first job as NBA head coach, Udoka led Boston to a 51-31 record last season, going 26-6 in his last 32 games. The Celtics beat Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Miami on their way to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.
The developments stunned the NBA and rocked a team that had been among the favorites to contend for a championship this season. It would be an unprecedented 18th title for the franchise.
But in Boston, the story was reminiscent of the citywide upheaval in 2020, when Red Sox manager Alex Cora was suspended from Major League Baseball for a year for his role in a sign-stealing scandal at his previous job. with the Houston Astros. Instead, the parties split up.
After a last place under Ron Roenicke in the season shortened by the pandemic, Cora was hired a year later and welcomed back.
It is unclear whether Udoka and the Celtics will be eager to reunite.
45-year-old Udoka spent most of his NBA playing career with San Antonio and then joined the staff of Spurs manager Gregg Popovich as an assistant. Udoka was on the Spurs staff from 2012 to 2019, winning it all in ’14, and quickly found his way up the slates for 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 as the successor to Brad Stevens, who moved on to the front office. In the first year, Udoka finished fourth in the coach of the year vote and the Celtics made two league wins.
“The future is bright and we’re just getting started,” Udoka said after the NBA Finals.
The bomb on the eve of the retirement is the latest turn towards what was supposed to be a promising season for the NBA’s most decorated franchise.
The Celtics strengthened their second roster by acquiring guard Malcolm Brogdon in an exchange from Indiana, then added veteran marksman forward Danilo Gallinari as a free agent. But last month, Gallinari tore the ACL in his left knee and will be lost for next season.
Center Robert Williams, a key part of the Boston defense system who played for injuries during last season’s playoffs, is still dealing with 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 striker Kevin Durant, a perennial All-Star who asked – and then backed off – a request to be swapped. While the talks didn’t help, they raised doubts about Boston’s commitment to young star Jaylen Brown.
It is also the second serious disciplinary situation in as many weeks in the NBA: Commissioner Adam Silver decided last week to suspend Robert Sarver – the owner of the Phoenix Suns and the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA – for one year and to fin him 10 million dollars. after an investigation showed his disturbing behavior in the workplace, including abusive and racist language. Sarver said Wednesday that he intends to sell his teams.
Mazzulla was interviewed for the Utah Jazz coaching job this summer, a position that ultimately went to Will Hardy, another of Udoka’s assistants in Boston last season.
Mazzulla’s only previous experience as head coach is a two-year stint at Division II’s Fairmont State in West Virginia, where he went 43-17 and participated in the NCAA tournament in his second season. A native of Rhode Island’s New England, Mazzulla played in West Virginia, served as an assistant to the Celtics ‘G League team before taking over from Fairmont State, and then was hired again by the Celtics in June 2019 to join Stevens’ staff. .
Mazzulla’s last game at Fairmont State was against Mercyhurst. His first real game with the Celtics will attract a little more attention: Boston will host longtime rival Philadelphia in the opening, when they make a year-long tribute to Hall of Fame Bill Russell.