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The Boston Celtics suspended second-year head coach Ime Udoka for the entire 2022-23 NBA season for violations of the team's code of conduct, the organization announced Thursday night.
Assistant coach Joe Mazzulla will serve as the team's interim head coach in Udoka's absence, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. A decision about Udoka's longterm future with the team beyond the 2022-23 season, the Celtics said, "will be made at a later date." Udoka issued an apology in a vague statement.
"I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization, and my family for letting them down," Udoka said, via ESPN's Malika Andrews. "I am sorry for putting the team in this difficult situation, and I accept the team's decision. Out of respect for everyone involved, I will have no further comment."
The Athletic's Shams Charania reported late Wednesday night, citing anonymous sources, that Udoka allegedly "had an improper intimate and consensual relationship with a female member of the team staff."
About 24 hours later, Charania reported the Celtics became aware of the relationship in July and were led to believe by both parties that the relationship was consensual. However, it's reported the woman recently accused Udoka of making unwanted comments toward her, leading to internal reviews.
Udoka led the Celtics to their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010 in his debut season as a head coach. Boston is the favorite to win the 2023 championship, according to BetMGM. Udoka played parts of seven NBA seasons for five different teams before joining the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant in 2012. The 45-year-old also spent time as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets before the Celtics gave him an overdue opportunity to lead a team. He finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting last season.
Mazzulla was an assistant for Boston's G League affiliate in Maine during the 2016-17 season. He coached West Virginia's Fairmont State University at the Division II college level for two seasons before joining then-Celtics coach Brad Stevens' staff as an assistant in 2019. Stevens moved into Boston's front office in 2021, assuming the role vacated by former president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and also hiring Udoka.
The 34-year-old Mazzulla coached the Celtics' 2021 Las Vegas Summer League roster to the championship game. He interviewed for the head coaching position that Udoka filled last year. Over the summer, Mazzulla also interviewed with Ainge, now the chief Utah Jazz executive, for the opening left by head coach Quin Snyder's departure. The Jazz ultimately hired Will Hardy, the lead assistant on Udoka's staff last season.
"I talked to everybody in the organization when I got hired, players included, and he got glowing reviews," Udoka said of Mazzulla in June, when news of his Jazz interview broke. "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. ... It's easy to see why, once I got to know him and be around him. What I've encouraged our guys to do is be more vocal, be more out there, and get their own voice, in the same way I was brought up in San Antonio."
Mazzulla endured a troubling career as a player at West Virginia University. He reportedly pleaded guilty to charges of disorderly conduct and public drunkenness for an alleged scuffle with police in 2008. A year later, Mazzulla reportedly pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct following his arrest on a battery charge for allegedly grabbing a woman by the neck at a bar in Morgantown, West Virginia.
"At the time, I had started to ignore support," he said in the aftermath of his legal troubles, which his father termed in 2010 as "mood swings and depression," stemming in part from a career-threatening injury. "Once I accepted help from [Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins] and my teammates it became much easier."
A monumental task awaits Mazzulla. Udoka drew rave reviews for inspiring Boston's transformation from a sub-.500 team at midseason into a juggernaut. Over the final three months of last season, the Celtics owned the league's best record (28-8), best offensive rating (120 points per 100 possessions) and best defensive rating (105.1 points allowed per 100 possessions). They captured the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed, sweeping the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs and defeating the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat in consecutive seven-game series, before losing to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals, 4-2.
Following the trade acquisition of former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon in July, which bolstered Boston's chances of returning to the Finals, the Celtics have suffered a string of unfortunate news events. Veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, who signed a free-agent contract with the Celtics this summer, tore his left ACL while playing for Italy in a FIBA World Cup qualifier in late August. Wojnarowski reported on Tuesday that All-Defensive center Robert Williams III will undergo arthroscopic surgery this week on his left knee.
The Celtics are scheduled to host their media day festivities on Monday at 12 p.m. ET.
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