The Celtics brass did nothing to alleviate the confusion from coach Ime Udoka’s season-long suspension that was levied Thursday night.
What is known is Udoka will not coach the Celtics in 2022-23; he will be replaced by 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla. What is known is Udoka committed multiple violations in what was a consensual relationship with a Celtics staffer.
Celtics primary governor Wyc Grousbeck and president of basketball operations Brad Stevens spent Friday morning trying to explain such a severe penalty without explaining exactly what Udoka did.
Udoka likely will never again coach the Celtics, and many observers were seeking clarity why a common workplace relationship would prompt such a reaction from the employer.
What we learned is that this was not a common workplace relationship, but the case of a person in a position of power who couldn’t control himself despite repeated warnings.
“We think our culture is very strong; we’re very proud of it,” Grousbeck said. “This has shaken it maybe, but I don’t think there is a wider issue. I don’t think it goes more broadly.”
According to an NBA source, Udoka had a clause in his contract that covered fraternizing with coworkers, and he was warned about potential inappropriate workplace relationships until the franchise was finally forced to hire a law firm to launch an independent investigation into his conduct.
The results were ghastly, and the Celtics felt they had no choice but to levy a season-long suspension. Grousbeck emphasized Udoka committed multiple violations. What were they? Were they that serious? And why wasn’t the woman (or women) Udoka was dealing with sanctioned or penalized?
No explanations were offered. The Celtics will try to resume normalcy, labeling Udoka as a rogue. An out-of-control, egotistical pseudo-leader who chose personal desires over organizational success.
Grousbeck cited privacy concerns as to why he couldn’t reveal more — or any — details about why their head coach was banished. It’s never been in Stevens’s nature to offer information even in the rosiest times so he wasn’t giving up anything Friday.
So we’re left to wonder. Our only recourse is to trust an organization in upheaval and put faith that Grousbeck especially will keep the franchise on the championship path.
“We have strong values at the Celtics,” Grousbeck said. “And we are doing our very best to uphold them here. I am concerned about this situation and its impact on everybody in the Celtics organization.
“I do hope this represents the beginning of a new chapter and a chance to turn the page and move forward with things to some extent resolved.”
It’s difficult to move on when there’s so much confusion and lack of information. All Grousbeck and Stevens, to a lesser extent, told the interested public was Udoka committed egregious mistakes and deserved a severe penalty. An NBA source said he will receive less than half his salary during his suspension, agreed upon in a settlement.
“I would say we have reflected as a group, our advisers, a diverse group, people deciding what to do, which I ultimately take responsibility for,” Grousbeck said. “I personally feel this is well warranted, appropriate, backed by substantial evidence and facts. I’m standing by the decision and Ime has accepted it. And he’s planning to move forward on this basis.”
There was a general sense of disappointment from Stevens and Grousbeck. Udoka was Stevens’s first head coaching hire. He put a lot of faith in a man who was not a notable name and was clamoring for his first coaching job. It appeared to be a perfect fit until off-court matters went awry.
The Celtics were anticipating this season eagerly but they’ve been besieged with bad luck with injuries to Danilo Gallinari (season-ending) and Robert Williams (three months).
Still the organization had enough faith in Udoka until the investigation started and the usually optimistic Grousbeck tempered expectations in an exclusive interview with the Globe last week.
He knew full well his head coach could possibly lose his job within days. The Celtics are no longer the model NBA franchise. They have been dinged, damaged, and humiliated.
And privacy laws wouldn’t allow them to elicit any sympathy. Or maybe it was a means of protecting Udoka from the embarrassment of his actions.
“There’s a real relationship with the guys and rightfully so,” Stevens said of Udoka and the players. “They had an incredible year last year. There is a personal connection. There’s a care both ways. To think that players or coaches can just walk back on the court and everything is fine, that’s just not the way it is.
“This is a really, really tough situation but we’re going to be forward-focused.”
The Celtics took too long to respond to the leak of this news and provided little clarity Friday. But what was evident is that Udoka’s misdoings were severe and warranted the punishment. As more information surfaces from Udoka’s tumultuous first season, perhaps those outside the organization will understand why the Celtics did what they did.
Until then, it has to be accepted and it’s best for all parties to move on, with Udoka finding another place to coach after his suspension.