Ime Udoka suspended: What’s subsequent for Celtics and past?

By Ric Bucher, melissa rohlin and Yaron Weitzmann
FOX Sports activities NBA Writers

Simply three months after main the boston celtics to the NBA Finals in his first season as head coach, Ime Udoka is on the heart of drama and uncertainty upending the group.

Udoka was suspended by the group for the whole lot of the 2022-23 season on Thursday, only a day after ESPN and The Athletic reported that he had had a consensual intimate relationship with a member of the group employees that violated organizational coverage.

Udoka launched a press release following the Celtics’ resolution:

The ripple results of an unprecedented punishment are certain to be felt all through the group and the league within the coming days. Our NBA reporters — Ric Bucher, Melissa Rohlin and Yaron Weitzman — spoke to sources across the NBA to element what comes subsequent.

The place the Celtics go from right here

In Udoka’s stead, the Celtics will flip to assistant coach Joe Mazzulla, based on a report from ESPN.

Simply 34 years outdated, Mazzulla takes over a group coming off a Finals run and anticipating one other. This may be a tall job for any coach, not to mention one with no expertise because the lead voice of an NBA group. The excellent news for Celtics followers is that Mazzulla seems to be beloved all through the group.

“The gamers like him and respect him,” one Celtics supply stated. When requested about Mazzulla throughout final yr’s playoff run, Celtics star Jayson Tatum stated, “I really like Joe… [I] cannot say sufficient good issues about Joe, and everyone appreciates what he brings to this group, and I am glad that now we have him.”

Mazzulla, who as some extent guard helped lead West Virginia to the NCAA Ultimate 4 in 2010, first joined the Celtics’ group in 2016, as an assistant for his or her G League group, the Maine Purple Claws. The subsequent season, he left to change into the top coach for Division II Fairmont State, the place he remained for 3 years earlier than being introduced on to Brad Stevens’ teaching employees with the Celtics in 2019. The job was a dream come true for the Rhode Island native who, based on mates, rooted for the Celtics when rising up.

Participant improvement was his preliminary focus. He labored carefully with Kemba Walker, amongst others.

“The gamers took to him,” stated Scott Morrison, a Celtics assistant on the time and Mazzulla’s head coach throughout his time with the Purple Claws. “He tells them what it’s with out being abrasive and in my expertise, gamers like that. They like being coached.”

He related with gamers as a result of he was simply as aggressive as them. An instance: In the course of the bubble, he and Morrison picked up swimming as a interest; inside a couple of days, Morrison stated, Mazzulla had watched hours of YouTube researching correct methods and techniques in order that he’d by no means lose a race.

In June 2021, Stevens stepped down as head coach and have become the Celtics’ normal supervisor. Quickly after, I’ve employed Udoka. Mazzulla was one in every of simply two Stevens assistants retained.

“I talked to everyone within the group after I obtained employed, gamers included, and he obtained glowing opinions,” Udoka stated of Mazzulla in June. “I did not know a lot about him going into it, however I take the gamers’ opinions at a excessive worth, and he was a man that was a consensus sure.”

Udoka promoted Mazzulla to a “entrance of the bench” job. He handed him extra X’s and O’s accountability. Mazzulla labored with former lead assistant Will Hardy on game-planning. The gamers observed a distinction.

“He is gotten a lot extra educated, and extra detailed, and extra vocal and extra snug in his position as a coach,” Tatum stated final spring. “You’ve got seen the expansion of him from his first yr, and he is helped me out tremendously as a participant and an individual.”

Tatum wasn’t the one one who felt this manner. Mazzula interviewed for the Jazz’s head coach emptiness this summer season. Utah, led by former Celtics GM Danny Ainge, as an alternative employed Hardy — however then tried hiring Mazzulla as his lead assistant, based on sources acquainted with the scenario. The Celtics had already deliberate on elevating Mazzulla to Hardy’s position, however, within the wake of Utah’s pursuit, additionally handed him a elevate.

The Celtics know Mazzulla must cope with a studying curve — do not be shocked in the event that they add a former head coach or veteran assistant to his employees — and so they know Udoka’s success in establishing a tradition of accountability and selflessness helped them flip round their season final yr and attain the Finals.

However in addition they have a loaded roster and imagine that, in Mazzulla, they nonetheless have a head coach that is aware of the group’s strengths, weaknesses and tips on how to greatest transfer the items round.

You by no means understand how somebody will react to being the boss, the one with the ultimate say and in place to get blamed when issues go fallacious. However Mazzulla’s colleagues, mates and — most significantly — bosses are assured in his potential to choose up the place Udoka left off.

How others across the league are reacting

The lingering query is: Will the group decide up the place it left off? And if it does not, does Mazulla have the presence and persona to get it on observe?

The Celtics had been struggling till midseason final yr when Udoka publicly demanded extra of his stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, significantly on protection.

“[Udoka’s] obtained such an awesome presence,” one Japanese Convention GM stated. “He challenged these guys early. I wasn’t afraid. They snapped again at him, and he did not flinch. It is the Larry Brown rule: We will discover methods to attain, however can we get the gamers to defend and rebound? That is the onerous half. I’ve obtained ’em to defend and rebound.”

Coaches prepared and in a position to problem their stars and get them to reply are a uncommon breed, even within the NBA. Rival executives and scouts are skeptical that the Celtics can discover two first-year head coaches in a row with the power to get well from a sluggish begin.

“You have to imagine all the Boston Celtics’ group is sick proper now,” the Japanese Convention GM stated. “Completely sick. They had been a respectable title-contender. It places them on a extremely slippery slope. As an instance they get off to a very good begin, I believe they may proceed with it. But when they get off to any sort of shaky begin , fingers are going to be pointed, the management goes to be questioned. It’ll be written and talked about and probably it’ll get into everybody’s head.”

There isn’t any file of a earlier NBA head coach being suspended for having an affair with somebody within the group, though league sources stated over time the invention of extramarital affairs have been an element within the dismissal of a number of head coaches and executives, even when they weren’t publicly cited on the time.

There have been related incidents on the collegiate stage with various repercussions. Arkansas soccer coach Bobby Petrino was fired in 2012 for an affair he had with a former ladies’s volleyball participant employed as his assistant by him. Pokey Chatman, now an assistant coach with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, resigned because the LSU ladies’s basketball coach in 2007 after it was reported she had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a former participant whereas that participant was a member of the group. And former Louisville males’s basketball coach Rick Pitino violated the morality clause of his contract by having intercourse with a girl in an Italian restaurant — the lady later married the group tools supervisor — however the Cardinals opted to not dismiss Pitino.

Whether or not there will probably be pushback throughout the league about Udoka’s punishment continues to be up within the air. Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, president of the Nationwide Basketball Coaches Affiliation, didn’t reply to a textual content message searching for remark and the NBCA has not put out a press release concerning Udoka.

How this might have an effect on Udoka and the Celtics long term

Simply three months in the past, Udoka and the Celtics had been so near the head of the NBA. Now, the Celtics, who’re nonetheless thought-about favorites within the Japanese Convention after bringing again their core of Jayson Tatum, Marcus Sensible and Jaylen Brown, must work out tips on how to play with out their chief.

It is a powerful break for a group that credited Udoka with turning a sputtering 23-24 begin final season right into a second-seed end with a file of 51-31.

The query now turns into: How a lot will this have an effect on the Celtics’ success going ahead?

“Over the course of the season, Boston has some dynamic gamers and [they] have established an on-court tradition of toughness and competing, the expertise will assist carry them,” an NBA scout stated. “However make no mistake, shedding Udoka will probably be a giant blow as a result of he did an awesome job final season.”

Udoka expertly walked the tightrope of harshly calling out his gamers whereas concurrently making them imagine in themselves, establishing himself as a breakout coach in his first yr on the gig. He led the Celtics to a file of 26-6 of their ultimate 32 video games, and, within the playoffs, helped them beat Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami.

In the course of the NBA Finals, the Celtics had been heaping reward on their soft-spoken chief who was identified for his brutal honesty and had shortly gained the belief and respect of everybody round him.

“It is plain and easy. I believe his vitality has been contagious to us all,” Sensible stated after the Celtics opened the Finals with an surprising win over the Golden State Warriors in Sport 1 in San Francisco.

For Udoka, his star was lastly on the rise after he had established himself as one of many premier assistants within the league following 9 seasons with San Antonio, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

He confirmed the world that in his first season as head coach that he belonged, ending fourth within the NBA’s coach of the yr balloting.

“He holds everyone accountable from the highest to the underside, you recognize, open door coverage,” Tatum stated in Might. “…I believe that it is simply nice for the group and what we’re attempting to perform.”

Now, it is honest to surprise if this suspension might stunt his ascension. Based on a TNT report, Udoka is not going to resign from his place, however his future stays past the 2022-23 season stays unclear.

Regardless, in a league the place there are solely 30 head teaching jobs, a lot of that are revolving doorways, a major suspension is a particular blow to a budding profession.

“Relying on the info, he could must step into the shadows for a short time after which take a couple of steps backwards in an effort to transfer ahead once more,” an NBA scout advised FOX Sports activities.


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