By JIMMY GOLEN and TIM REYNOLDS AP sports writers
BOSTON — The Boston Celtics have suspended Ime Udoka for a full year, banning the coach who took them to the NBA Finals last spring for the entire 2022-23 season in what two people with knowledge of the matter said was a inappropriate relationship with a member. of the organization.
The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not disclose that detail publicly. In a statement released Thursday night after a full day of wrangling over the terms of the punishment, the Celtics said Udoka violated team policy and left open the possibility that he could pursue a longer separation.
“A decision will be made regarding his future with the Celtics beyond this season,” the team said.
Assistant coach Joe Mazzulla will take over as interim coach, said one of the people who spoke to The AP. The defending Eastern Conference champions are scheduled to hold a media day Monday and open training camp Tuesday in preparation for the Oct. 18 season opener.
In a statement released by ESPN, Udoka apologized “to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization and my family for letting them down.”
“I am sorry to have put the team in this difficult situation and I accept the team’s decision,” he said. “Out of respect for everyone involved, I will have no further comment.”
Udoka, a longtime assistant in his first NBA head coaching job, led Boston to a 51-31 record last season, going 26-6 in the last 32 games. The Celtics beat Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami en route to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.
The events stunned the NBA and rocked a team that had been among the favorites to contend for a championship this season. It would be an unprecedented 18th title for the franchise.
But in Boston, history recalled the citywide shakeup in 2020, when Red Sox manager Alex Cora was suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for his role in a sign-stealing scandal at his previous job, with the Houston Astros. Instead, the sides parted.
After finishing in last place with Ron Roenicke in the pandemic-shortened season, Cora was rehired a year later and welcomed back.
It’s unclear whether Udoka and the Celtics will be that eager to get together.
Udoka, 45, spent most of his NBA playing career with San Antonio and later joined Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s staff as an assistant. Udoka was on the Spurs staff from 2012 to 2019, winning it all in 2014, quickly finding his way onto shortlists for open head coaching jobs.
He spent the 2019-20 season in Philadelphia and the 2020-21 season in Brooklyn before the Celtics hired him in June 2021 to succeed Brad Stevens, who rose to the front office. In Year 1, Udoka finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting and the Celtics came within two wins of the championship.
“The future is bright and we’re just getting started,” Udoka said after the NBA Finals.
The bombshell on the eve of training camp is the latest twist in what was supposed to be a promising season for one of the NBA’s most decorated franchises.
The Celtics bolstered their runner-up list by acquiring guard Malcolm Brogdon in a trade from Indiana, then added veteran forward Danilo Gallinari as a free agent. But last month, Gallinari tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and will miss next season.
Center Robert Williams, a key part of Boston’s defensive scheme who played through injuries during last season’s playoffs, is still dealing with knee soreness and is expected to miss the start of the season.
The Celtics were also brought up in speculation about a new home for Brooklyn forward Kevin Durant, a perennial All-Star who applied for, and later retracted, a request to be traded. Although the talks came to nothing, they raised questions about Boston’s commitment to young star Jaylen Brown.
It’s also the second major disciplinary situation in the NBA in as many weeks: Commissioner Adam Silver decided last week to suspend Robert Sarver, the owner of the WNBA’s Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, for one year and fine him $10 million afterward. that an investigation showed his pattern of disruptive behavior in the workplace, including abusive and racist language. Sarver said Wednesday that he intends to sell the equipment from him.
Mazzulla interviewed for the Utah Jazz coaching job this summer, a job that ultimately went to Will Hardy, another of Udoka’s assistants in Boston last season.
Mazzulla’s only previous experience as a head coach is a two-year stint at Division II Fairmont State in West Virginia, where he went 43-17 and reached the NCAA tournament in his second season. A New England native from Rhode Island, Mazzulla played in West Virginia, was an assistant for the Celtics’ G League team before taking over Fairmont State, and then was hired by the Celtics again in June 2019 to be part of the staff. by Stevens.
Mazzulla’s last game at Fairmont State was against Mercyhurst. His first real game with the Celtics will draw a little more attention: Boston is scheduled to host longtime rival Philadelphia in Game 1, when they will give notice of a year-long tribute to the Hall of Fame member. Fame Bill Russell.
Reynolds reported from Miami.