The Boston Celtics have suspended sophomore head coach Ime Udoka for the entire 2022-23 NBA season for violating the team’s code of conduct, the organization announced Thursday night.
Assistant coach Joe Mazzulla will serve as the team’s interim head coach in Udoka’s absence. according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. A decision on Udoka’s long-term future with the team beyond the 2022-23 season, the Celtics say, “will be made at a later date.” Udoka apologized in a vague statement.
“I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization and my family for letting them down,” said Udoka. via ESPN’s Malika Andrews. “I’m sorry for putting the team in this difficult situation and I accept the team’s decision. Out of respect for everyone involved, I will not comment further.”
The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Thursday night, citing anonymous sources, that Udoka allegedly “had an inappropriate intimate and consensual relationship with a female member of the team’s staff”.
Udoka led the Celtics to their first NBA Finals since 2010 in his debut season as head coach. Boston is the favorite to win the 2023 championship, according to BetMGM. Udoka played portions of seven NBA seasons for five different teams before becoming an assistant in 2012 switched to the San Antonio Spurs. The 45-year-old also spent some time as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets before the Celtics gave him a long-overdue opportunity to lead a team. Last season, he came fourth in the Coach of the Year poll.
Mazzulla was an assistant for Boston’s G-League affiliate in Maine during the 2016-17 season. He coached Fairmont State University in West Virginia at the Division II collegiate level for two seasons before joining the staff of then-Celtics coach Brad Stevens in 2019 as an assistant. Stevens moved to the Boston front office in 2021, taking over from former basketball president of operations Danny Ainge and also hiring Udoka.
Mazzulla, 34, coached the Celtics’ 2021 Las Vegas Summer League roster to the championship game. He applied for the head coaching position that Udoka had filled last year. Over the summer, Mazzulla also interviewed Ainge, now head coach of Utah Jazz, for the opening left by head coach Quin Snyder’s departure. The Jazz eventually hired Will Hardy, the senior assistant to Udoka’s staff last season.
“I spoke to everyone in the organization when I was hired, including players, and they got rave reviews,” Udoka said of Mazzulla in June when news of his Jazz interview broke. “I didn’t know much about how he was going about it, but I really value players’ opinions and he was a guy who was a consensus, yes. … It’s easy to understand why, once I know him and be around him. I encouraged our boys to be louder, to be out there more and to get their own voice like I did growing up in San Antonio.
A monumental task awaits Mazzulla. Udoka received rave reviews for inspiring Boston’s transformation from a midseason sub-500 team to a juggernaut. In the last three months of last season, the Celtics had the best record in the league (28-8), best offense rating (120 points per 100 possessions) and best defensive rating (105.1 points allowed per 100 possessions). They captured the Eastern Conference No. 2 seed, swept the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs, and defeated the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat in back-to-back seven-game series before losing 4-2 to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.
The Celtics endured a series of unfortunate events following the July acquisition of former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, which boosted Boston’s chances of a return to the Finals. Veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, who signed a free agent with the Celtics this summer, tore his left ACL while playing for Italy in a FIBA World Cup qualifier in late August. Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that all-defensive center Robert Williams III will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee this week.
The Celtics are expected to hold their Media Day celebrations Monday at 12 p.m. ET.
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