Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Wednesday night that the Celtics plan to significantly penalize head coach Ime Udoka with a suspension for a team rule violation. Udoka could potentially miss the entire 2021-22 season, according to Wojnarowski. More details on the penalty, which comes days before the team’s media event to open training camp on Monday, are set to be revealed on Thursday.
Shams Charania indicated on Thursday morning that Udoka had a consensual relationship with a Celtics female staffer that violated the franchise’s code of conduct.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka had an improper intimate and consensual relationship with a female member of the team staff, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. It’s been deemed a violation of franchise’s code of conduct.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 22, 2022
Though the matter hasn’t risen to an NBA issue, the Celtics deemed it warranted of some kind of absence. Udoka, who became engaged to actress Nia Long in 2015, could need to address whatever family fallout stems from his alleged actions. The Celtics, who had reportedly discussed options internally to address the situation, now stand to begin their run at returning to the NBA Finals without their head coach for the foreseeable future.
It’s an ominous end to an offseason where the team already lost free agent signing Danilo Gallinari to an ACL tear playing for Team Italy, learned Robert Williams III needs another left knee surgery that’ll sideline him for 4-6 weeks and waded through a tense July where the Kevin Durant trade saga pulled Jaylen Brown’s name into headlines nearly weekly — eliciting a dissatisfied response from the star on Twitter.
Udoka’s ascent to head coach after Danny Ainge stepped away from the organization and Brad Stevens took over his role startlingly propelled the Celtics, following a rough start, into one of the great NBA stories last season. Udoka pushed the roster from his early days as head coach, adjusting the playmaking and offensive tendencies of his stars, challenging players publicly and suspending Marcus Smart for missing a team flight in the preseason.
Now, Udoka faces his own disciplinary issue with the team that casts uncertainty over this upcoming year. One that could call into question his future too. No decision from the team is finalized yet, Wojnarowski tweeted early Thursday morning.
Assistant head coach Joe Mazzulla would presumably be next in line to take over the team in an interim role after Udoka moved Mazzulla up the bench following former assistant Will Hardy’s hiring as Utah’s head coach. Internal promotions and staff preparation for departures like Hardy’s became an Udoka priority, expecting the team’s success to lead to future departures like his own from Brooklyn to Boston.
Mazzulla joined the organization in 2019 under Stevens, remained under Udoka in part due to advocacy of Jayson Tatum and led the team’s 2021 Summer League roster in Las Vegas. He worked with the roster’s younger players like Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith. Mazzulla was the head coach of Fairmont State from 2017-19.
Though the most experienced coach in the organization now works upstairs, it’s hard to imagine Stevens leaving his front office role to take on a coaching role he felt the need to step away from last year. Some coaches have tried to balance front office and personnel roles at the same time, and few have done it successfully.
If Udoka is in position to eventually return to the franchise, Stevens may be an awkward choice as an interim coach, but he would be a familiar one. And nothing is comfortable about this situation.