The Boston Celtics have suspended head coach Ime Udoka for the 2022-23 season, effective immediately, and with no guarantee that he will return to the franchise.
The Celtics said Thursday night that Udoka was suspended for “team policy violations.” Earlier Thursday, two people with knowledge of the matter said that Udoka was being disciplined for an inappropriate relationship with a member of the organization. Those people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not disclose that detail publicly.
“The decision regarding his future with the Celtics beyond this season will be made at a later date,” the Celtics said.
Udoka, in a statement released by ESPN, apologized but offered no details.
“I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization and my family for letting them down. I’m sorry for putting the team in this difficult situation and accept the team’s decision. Out of respect for everyone involved, I will have no further comment.” said.
One of the people who spoke to The AP said Celtics assistant coach Joe Mazzulla will take over on an interim basis.
Mazzulla interviewed for the Utah Jazz coaching job this summer, a job that ultimately went to Will Hardy, another of Udoka’s assistants in Boston last season. Udoka’s other assistant coaches were Damon Stoudemire, Ben Sullivan, Aaron Miles, and Tony Dobbins.
Udoka had a brilliant first season with the Celtics, finishing the regular season 51-31 (going 26-6 in the last 32 games) and guiding Boston past Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami en route to the NBA Finals. The Celtics lost the title series to the Golden State Warriors in six games.
Losing Udoka will be a huge blow to a team that is widely considered one of the favorites to contend for an NBA title this season.
The developments are reminiscent of the citywide shakeup back in 2020 when Red Sox manager Alex Cora was suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for his role in a sign-stealing scandal at his previous job, with the Houston Astros. Instead, the sides parted.
After finishing in last place with Ron Roenicke in the pandemic-shortened season, Cora was rehired a year later and welcomed back.
It is not very clear if Udoka will follow that path.
Udoka, 45, spent most of his NBA playing career with San Antonio, then continued his time with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, joining his staff as an assistant. Udoka was on the Spurs staff from 2012 to 2019, and it wasn’t long before he became one of the names that tended to appear on the short list of candidates when head coaching jobs opened up.
He spent the 2019-20 season in Philadelphia, the 2020-21 season in Brooklyn, and was then hired by the Celtics in June 2021 as the successor to Brad Stevens, who took over a front office job.
“The future is bright and we’re just getting started,” Udoka said after the NBA Finals.
The Celtics will hold media day, a session where coaches, players and executives meet with reporters, on Monday and open training camp on Tuesday. And the absence of Udoka, who was fourth in NBA coach of the year voting last season, will overshadow what was supposed to be the start of a season of high expectations.
It also adds to a number of major issues facing the club ahead of the start of practices.
Boston made some big moves early in the offseason, acquiring Malcolm Brogdon in a trade from Indiana to bolster an already strong backcourt, then adding veteran forward Danilo Gallinari as a free agent.
But last month, Gallinari tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and will miss next season. Center Robert Williams, an important part of Boston’s defensive scheme who played through knee issues during last season’s playoffs, is still dealing with knee issues and isn’t expected to be ready to start this season.
The Celtics were also mentioned prominently in trade speculation surrounding Brooklyn forward Kevin Durant, a perennial All-Star who wanted the Nets to move him elsewhere, then dropped that lawsuit after several weeks. It would have taken a significant package of players, likely including Jaylen Brown, to land Durant, and the trade talk probably left some wondering about his future in Boston.
Mazzulla’s only previous experience as a head coach is a two-year stint at Division II Fairmont State in West Virginia, where he went 43-17 and reached the NCAA tournament in his second season. Mazzulla, a New England native from Rhode Island, played his college basketball at West Virginia, was an assistant for the Celtics’ G League team before taking over at Fairmont State, then was hired by the Celtics again in June 2019. to be part of the Stevens staff.
Mazzulla’s last game at Fairmont State was against Mercyhurst. His first real game with the Celtics will be a little better seen and attended: against Philadelphia, in Boston, on October 18 in the first game of the new NBA season.
It’s the second major disciplinary situation in as many weeks in the NBA, following commissioner Adam Silver’s decision last week to suspend Robert Sarver, the owner of the WNBA’s Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, for one year and fine him $10 million afterwards. an investigation showed his pattern of disturbing behavior in the workplace, including abusive and racist language. Sarver said Wednesday that he intends to sell the equipment from him.
Reynolds reported from Miami.