The Boston Celtics suspended Ime Udoka for a full year and suspended the coach who guided them to the NBA Finals last spring for the entire 2022-23 season because two people with knowledge of the matter alleged an improper relationship with a member of the Celtics stated organization.
People spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team didn’t publicly reveal that detail. In a statement released Thursday night after a full day of wrangling over the terms of the punishment, the Celtics said Udoka violated team policy and left open the possibility that a longer split could follow.
“A decision on his future with the Celtics beyond this season will be made at a later date,” the team said.
Assistant coach Joe Mazzulla will take over as interim coach, one of those who spoke to The AP said. The Eastern Conference champions are expected to hold a media day on Monday and open training camp on Tuesday in preparation for the Oct. 18 season opener.
In a statement released by ESPN, Udoka “apologized 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 I accept the team’s decision,” he said. “Out of respect for everyone involved, I will not comment further.”
A longtime assistant in his first job as NBA head coach, Udoka led Boston to a 51-31 record last season — by 26-6 in the last 32 games. The Celtics beat Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami en route 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 for a championship that season. It would be an unprecedented 18th title for the franchise.
But in Boston, the story was reminiscent of the citywide shock of 2020, when Red Sox manager Alex Cora was suspended from Major League Baseball for a year for his role in a sign-theft scandal at his previous job with the Houston Astros. Instead, the sides parted.
After a final spot under Ron Roenicke in the pandemic-shortened season, Cora was reinstated and welcomed back a year later.
It’s unclear if Udoka and the Celtics will be just as eager to reunite.
Udoka, 45, spent most of his NBA career with San Antonio before joining Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s staff as an assistant. Udoka was on the Spurs staff from 2012 to 2019 and won 14 everything and quickly found his way onto the shortlist for open 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 replace Brad Stevens – who was promoted to the front office. In Year 1, Udoka finished fourth in the Coach of the Year poll and the Celtics were just two wins away from the championship.
“The future is bright and we’re just getting started,” Udoka said after the NBA Finals.
The bombshell on the eve of training camp is the latest twist in what appears to be a promising season for the NBA’s most awarded franchise.
The Celtics reinforced their runners-up by taking guard Malcolm Brogdon in a trade from Indiana, then added veteran sniper forward Danilo Gallinari as a free agent. But last month Gallinari tore the ACL in his left knee and will be lost for the upcoming season.
Center Robert Williams, a key part of Boston’s defensive system who sustained injuries in last season’s playoffs, is still battling knee pain and is expected to miss the start of the season.
The Celtics have also been mentioned in speculation about a new home for Brooklyn forward Kevin Durant, a enduring All-Star who asked to be traded – and then backed out. Though the talks went nowhere, it raised questions about Boston’s commitment to young star Jaylen Brown.
It’s also the second major disciplinary situation in as many weeks in the NBA: Commissioner Adam Silver decided last week to suspend Robert Sarver — owner of the Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury — for a year, and fined him 10 Millions of dollars to be fined The investigation revealed his pattern of behavior in the workplace, including abusive and racist language. Sarver said on Wednesday he intends to sell his teams.
Mazzulla applied 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 head coaching experience is a two-year stint at Division II Fairmont State in West Virginia, where he won 43-17 and reached the NCAA tournament in his sophomore season. Mazzulla, a native of New England from Rhode Island, played in West Virginia, was an assistant on the Celtics G-League team before taking over at Fairmont State, and then was hired again by the Celtics in June 2019 to be part of the Stevens -to become staff.
Mazzulla’s last game at Fairmont State was against Mercyhurst. His first proper game against the Celtics will draw a little more attention: Boston host longtime rivals Philadelphia in the opening game as they host a year-long tribute to Hall of Famer Bill Russell.
Reynolds reported from Miami.