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

By Ric Bucher, Melissa Rohlin and Yaron Weitzman
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 staff for the whole thing 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 staff workers that violated organizational coverage.

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Udoka launched an announcement following the Celtics’ determination:

The ripple results of an unprecedented punishment are positive 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

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

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

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

Mazzulla, who as a degree guard helped lead West Virginia to the NCAA Closing 4 in 2010, first joined the Celtics’ group in 2016, as an assistant for his or her G League staff, the Maine Crimson Claws. The following season, he left to turn out to be the pinnacle coach for Division II Fairmont State, the place he remained for 3 years earlier than being introduced on to Brad Stevens’ teaching workers with the Celtics in 2019. The job was a dream come true for the Rhode Island native who, in response to buddies, rooted for the Celtics when rising up. 

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

“The gamers took to him,” mentioned Scott Morrison, a Celtics assistant on the time and Mazzulla’s head coach throughout his time with the Crimson 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 number of days, Morrison mentioned, Mazzulla had watched hours of YouTube researching correct strategies 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’ basic supervisor. Quickly after, he employed Udoka. Mazzulla was one in every of simply two Stevens assistants retained.

“I talked to all people within the group once I acquired employed, gamers included, and he acquired glowing critiques,” Udoka mentioned 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 function as a coach,” Tatum mentioned final spring. “You’ve got seen the expansion 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 time. Utah, led by former Celtics GM Danny Ainge, as a substitute employed Hardy — however then tried hiring Mazzulla as his lead assistant, in response to sources conversant in the scenario. The Celtics had already deliberate on elevating Mazzulla to Hardy’s function, however, within the wake of Utah’s pursuit, additionally handed him a increase.

The Celtics know Mazzulla must take care of a studying curve — don’t be shocked in the event that they add a former head coach or veteran assistant to his workers — 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 consider that, in Mazzulla, they nonetheless have a head coach that is aware of the group’s strengths, weaknesses and easy methods to greatest transfer the items round. 

You by no means know the way somebody will react to being the boss, the one with the ultimate say and in place to get blamed when issues go mistaken. However Mazzulla’s colleagues, buddies and — most significantly — bosses are assured in his capability to select up the place Udoka left off. 

How others across the league are reacting

The lingering query is: Will the staff choose up the place it left off? And if it doesn’t, does Mazulla have the presence and character to get it on monitor?

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

“[Udoka’s] acquired such a fantastic presence,” one Japanese Convention GM mentioned. “He challenged these guys early. He wasn’t afraid. They snapped again at him, and he didn’t flinch. It’s the Larry Brown rule: We will discover methods to attain, however can we get the gamers to defend and rebound? That’s the laborious half. Ime acquired ‘em to defend and rebound.”

Coaches willing and able to challenge their stars and get them to respond are a rare breed, even in the NBA. Rival executives and scouts are skeptical that the Celtics can find two first-year head coaches in a row with the ability to recover from a slow start.

“You’ve acquired to consider the whole Boston Celtics’ group is sick proper now,” the Japanese Convention GM mentioned. “Completely sick. They had been a respectable title-contender. It places them on a very slippery slope. Let’s say they get off to a great begin, I feel they may proceed with it. But when they get off to any type of shaky begin, fingers are going to be pointed, the management goes to be questioned. It’s going to be written and talked about and probably it’s going to get into everybody’s head.”

There isn’t a report of a earlier NBA head coach being suspended for having an affair with somebody within the group, though league sources mentioned 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. 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 staff. And former Louisville males’s basketball coach Rick Pitino violated the morality clause of his contract by having intercourse with a lady in an Italian restaurant — the girl later married the staff gear supervisor — however the Cardinals opted to not dismiss Pitino.

Whether or not there shall be pushback throughout the league about Udoka’s punishment remains 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 an announcement relating to Udoka.

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

Simply three months in the past, Udoka and the Celtics had been so near the top of the NBA. Now, the Celtics, who’re nonetheless thought of favorites within the Japanese Convention after bringing again their core of Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, must determine easy methods to play with out their chief.

It is a powerful break for a staff that credited Udoka with turning a sputtering 23-24 begin final season right into a second-seed end with a report 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 mentioned. “However make no mistake, shedding Udoka shall be a giant blow as a result of he did a fantastic job final season.”

Udoka expertly walked the tightrope of harshly calling out his gamers whereas concurrently making them consider in themselves, establishing himself as a breakout coach in his first yr on the gig. He led the Celtics to a report of 26-6 of their closing 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 rapidly gained the belief and respect of everybody round him.

“It is plain and easy. I feel his power has been contagious to us all,” Sensible mentioned 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 all people accountable from the highest to the underside, you realize, open door coverage,” Tatum mentioned in Could. “…I feel that it’s simply nice for the group and what we’re making an attempt to perform.”

Now, it is honest to marvel if this suspension may stunt his ascension. In line with 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, lots of that are revolving doorways, a big suspension is a particular blow to a budding profession.

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


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