Celtics suspend head coach Ime Udoka for the 2022–23 season for violation of team policies

BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Celtics have suspended coach Ime Udoka for the 2022-23 season with immediate effect, without any guarantees he will return to the franchise.

“A decision on his future with the Celtics will be made later this season,” the Celtics said.

Udoka apologized in a statement published by ESPN but did not provide details.

“I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization and my family for letting them down. I am sorry to put the team in this difficult situation, and I accept the team’s decision. Out of respect for everyone involved, I will not comment further,” he said.

One of the people the AP spoke with said Celtics assistant coach Joe Mazzulla will take over on an interim basis.

Mazulla interviewed this summer for a Utah Jazz coaching job, a position that eventually went to Will Hardy, one 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 great first season with the Celtics, ending the regular season 51–31 – leading 26-6 in the final 32 games – and trailing Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami on their way to the NBA Finals. He was leading Boston. The Celtics lost the title series in six games to the Golden State Warriors.

Losing Udoka would be a significant blow to a team that is widely regarded as one of the contenders for the NBA title this season.

The developments are reminiscent of citywide shakeups in 2020 when Red Sox manager Alex Cora was suspended for a year by Major League Baseball for his role in a sign-theft scandal at his previous job with the Houston Astros. Instead, the sides parted.

After finishing last under Ron Roenick in a pandemic-shortened season, Cora was rehired a year later and welcomed back.

It is unclear whether Udoka will follow that path.

Udoka, 45, spent the bulk of his NBA playing career with San Antonio, then joining his staff as an assistant to continue his time with Spurs coach Greg Popovich. Udoka was on the Spurs staff from 2012 to 2019, and it didn’t take long for him to become one of the names that started appearing on the short list of candidates when the head coach job opened.

He spent the 2019-20 season in Philadelphia, the 2020-21 season in Brooklyn, and then the Celtics hired him in June 2021 to succeed Brad Stevens – who moved into a front-office role.

“The future is bright and we are just getting started,” Udoka said after the NBA Finals.

Maybe not.

The Celtics will hold Media Day, a session where coaches, players and officials will meet with reporters on Monday and open training camps on Tuesday. And the absence of Udoka — who finished fourth in the NBA Coach of the Year last season — will overshadow what was supposed to be the start of a season of great expectations.

It also adds to the major issues the club is facing at the start of practice.

Boston made some big moves early in the off-season, acquiring Malcolm Brogdon in a trade from Indiana to bolster an already strong backcourt, then adding sharpshooting veteran forward Danilo Gallinari as a free agent.

But last month, Gallinari tore an ACL in his left knee and would be lost for the season to come. Center Robert Williams, a key part of Boston’s defensive plan, who battled knee problems during last season’s playoffs, is still battling knee problems and is not expected to be ready to start this season. Is.

The Celtics were also mentioned prominently in the business speculation surrounding Brooklyn forward Kevin Durant, a perennial All-Star who wanted to be taken elsewhere by the Nets – then withdrew that demand after several weeks. It would likely have taken a significant package of players, including Jaylen Brown, to land Durant, and the prospect of trade talks made some wonder about his future in Boston.

Mazulla’s only previous experience as head coach is a two-year stint at Division II Fairmont State in West Virginia, where he went 43-17 to make the NCAA Tournament in his second season. Mazulla – a native New Englander from Rhode Island – played his college basketball in West Virginia, was an assistant for the Celtics’ G League team before taking over at Fairmont State, and then was rehired by the Celtics in June 2019 . Stevens’ staff.

Majulla’s last game at Fairmont State was against Mercyhurst. His first real game with the Celtics would be a little better watched—and featured—against Philadelphia, on October 18 in Boston, the first game of the new NBA season.

This is the second major disciplinary situation in the NBA in as many weeks, after commissioner Adam Silver last week suspended Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury owner Robert Sarver for a year and fined him $10 million. An investigation showed his pattern of disturbing workplace conduct, including abusive and racist language. Sarwar said on Wednesday that he intends to sell his teams.

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