Ime Udoka suspended: What’s next for Celtics and beyond?

By Ric Bucher, Melissa Rohlin and Yaron Weitzman
FOX Sports NBA Writers

Just 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 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 group employees that violated organizational coverage.

Udoka launched an announcement 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 next.

Where 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.

Just 34 years previous, Mazzulla takes over a group coming off a Finals run and anticipating one other. This can be a tall activity 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 players 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 love Joe… [I] can’t say enough good things about Joe, and everybody appreciates what he brings to this team, and I’m glad that we have him.” 

Mazzulla, who as a degree guard helped lead West Virginia to the NCAA Final Four in 2010, first joined the Celtics’ group in 2016, as an assistant for their G League group, the Maine Red Claws. The next season, he left to develop into the pinnacle coach for Division II Fairmont State, the place he remained for three 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 pals, rooted for the Celtics when rising up. 

Player improvement was his preliminary focus. He labored intently with Kemba Walker, amongst others. 

“The players took to him,” stated Scott Morrison, a Celtics assistant on the time and Mazzulla’s head coach throughout his time with the Red Claws. “He tells them what it is without being abrasive and in my experience, players like that. They like being coached.” 

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

In June 2021, Stevens stepped down as head coach and turned the Celtics’ normal supervisor. Soon after, he employed Udoka. Mazzulla was one in every of simply two Stevens assistants retained.

“I talked to everybody in the organization when I got hired, players included, and he got glowing reviews,” Udoka stated of Mazzulla in June. “I didn’t know much about him going into it, but I take the players’ opinions at a high value, and he was a guy that was a consensus yes.”

Udoka promoted Mazzulla to a “front 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’s gotten so much more knowledgeable, and more detailed, and more vocal and more comfortable in his role as a coach,” Tatum stated final spring. “You’ve seen the Growth from his first year, and he’s helped me out tremendously as a player and a person.”

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 conversant in the state of affairs. 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 take care of a studying curve — don’t be stunned in the event that they add a former head coach or veteran assistant to his employees — and 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.

But 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 how you can 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 incorrect. But Mazzulla’s colleagues, pals and — most significantly — bosses are assured in his skill to choose up the place Udoka left off. 

How others across the league are reacting

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

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

“[Udoka’s] got such a great presence,” one Eastern Conference GM stated. “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 can discover methods to attain, however can we get the gamers to defend and rebound? That’s the laborious half. Ime received ‘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 received to imagine all the Boston Celtics’ group is sick proper now,” the Eastern Conference GM stated. “Absolutely sick. They were a legitimate title-contender. It puts them on a really slippery slope. Let’s say they get off to a good start, I think they could continue with it. But if they get off to any kind of shaky start, fingers are going to be pointed, the leadership is going to be questioned. It’s going to be written and talked about and potentially it’s going to get into everyone’s head.”

There isn’t any report 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 comparable 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 group. 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 lady later married the group gear supervisor — however the Cardinals opted to not dismiss Pitino.

Whether 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 National Basketball Coaches Association, 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

Just three months in the past, Udoka and the Celtics have been so near the top of the NBA. Now, the Celtics, who’re nonetheless thought-about favorites within the Eastern Conference after bringing again their core of Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, must work out how you can play with out their chief.

It’s a troublesome break for a group 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 players and [they] have established an on-court culture of toughness and competing, the talent will Help carry them,” an NBA scout stated. “But make no mistake, losing Udoka will be a big blow because he did a great job last 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 report of 26-6 of their last 32 video games, and, within the playoffs, helped them beat Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami. 

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

“It’s plain and simple. I think his energy has been contagious to us all,” Smart stated after the Celtics opened the Finals with an sudden win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 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 everybody accountable from the top to the bottom, you know, open door policy,” Tatum stated in May. “…I think that it’s just great for the group and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Now, it is truthful to surprise if this suspension may stunt his ascension. According to 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.

“Depending on the facts, he may need to step into the shadows for a little while and then take a few steps backwards in order to move forward again,” an NBA scout advised FOX Sports.

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