JIMMY GOLEN and TIM REYNOLDS
BOSTON (AP) – The Boston Celtics suspended Ime Udoka for a full year, banning the coach who led them to the NBA Finals last spring for the entire 2022-23 season due to what two knowledgeable people said there was an inappropriate relationship with a member of the organization .
People spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as the team did not disclose this detail to the public. In a statement released Thursday night after a day of arguing over the terms of the punishment, the Celtics said Udoka violated the team’s rules and left open the possibility that a longer separation might ensue.
“The 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, said one of the people who spoke to The AP. The defending Eastern Conference champions are expected to host a media day on Monday and an open training camp on Tuesday in preparation for the season opening on October 18.
In a statement released by ESPN, Udoka apologized to “our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization and my family for failing them.”
“I’m sorry to put the team in such a difficult position and I accept the team’s decision,” he said. “Out of respect for everyone involved, I won’t have any further comments.”
A longtime assistant in his first job as NBA head coach, Udoka led Boston to a 51-31 record last season – scoring 26-6 in the 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 events took the NBA by surprise and shocked the team that was one of the favorites to fight for the championship this season. This would be an unprecedented 18th title for the series.
But in Boston, the story was reminiscent of the upheaval in the city in 2020 when Red Sox manager Alex Cora was suspended for a year by Major League Baseball for his role in the character theft scandal in his previous job at the Houston Astros. Instead, the sides parted.
After finishing last under Ron Roenicke in a pandemic-shortened season, Cora was re-hired a year later and welcomed back.
It is unclear if Udoka and the Celtics will be equally eager to reunite.
Udoka, 45, spent most of his career in the NBA in San Antonio before joining Spurs coach Gregg Popovich as an assistant. Udoka was on Spurs staff from 2012 to 2019, winning all in AD 14, and was quickly shortlisted for vacant coaching positions.
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 his first year, Udoka finished fourth in the coach of the year vote, with the Celtics taking two championship wins.
“The future is clear and we’re just getting started,” Udoka said after the NBA Finals.
The b*mb on the eve of training camp is the latest twist that was meant to be a promising season for the NBA’s most successful franchise.
The Celtics bolstered their second squad by enlisting ranger Malcolm Brogdon for trade from Indiana, then adding veteran sniper Danil Gallinari as free agent. But last month, Gallinari tore off the ACL in his left knee and will lose the coming season.
Central Robert Williams, a key part of Boston’s defense system, who played through injuries in last season’s playoffs, is still struggling with knee pain and is not expected to start the season.
The Celtics were also mentioned in speculation about a new home for Brooklyn striker Kevin Durant, the perennial All-Star, who asked for – and then backed off – a request for a replacement. While the talks did not help, questions arose about Boston’s involvement with the young star Jaylen Brown.
It’s also the second major disciplinary situation in weeks in the NBA: Commissioner Adam Silver decided last week to suspend Robert Sarver – owner of the Phoenix Suns and WNBA Phoenix Mercury – for one year and fined him $ 10 million after an investigation showed a pattern of disturbing behavior in the workplace, including offensive and racist language. Sarver said Wednesday that he was going to sell his bands.
Mazzulla interviewed this summer for the Utah Jazz coach position that eventually went to Will Hardy – another assistant to Udoka in Boston last season.
Mazzulla’s only previous experience as head coach was a two-year stay at Fairmont State II Division in West Virginia, where he passed 43-17 and completed the NCAA tournament in his second season. A New England native from Rhode Island, Mazzulla played for West Virginia, served as assistant to the Celtics ‘G League team prior to being acquired at Fairmont State, and then was re-hired by the Celtics in June 2019 to be part of Stevens’ staff.
Mazzulla’s last game at Fairmont State was against Mercyhurst. His first real game against the Celtics will get a little more attention: Boston is set to host longtime rival Philadelphia in the opening game when they will declare their annual Hall of Famer tribute to Bill Russell.
Reynolds checked in from Miami.
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