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

by Rick Bucher, Melissa Rollin And the Weitzman boy
FOX Sports NBA book

After only three months of driving Boston Celtics To the NBA Finals in his first season as head coach, Ime Udoka has been at the center of the drama and uncertainty that upends regulation.

Udoka was suspended by the team for the duration of the 2022-23 season on Thursday, just a day after ESPN and The Athletic said he was having a consensual intimate relationship with a team member who violated organizational policy.

Odoka released a statement following the Celtics’ decision:

The ripple effects of an unprecedented punishment are sure to be felt throughout the organization and the league in the coming days. Our NBA reporters – Rick Bucher, Melissa Rohlin and Yaron Weitzman – spoke to sources around the NBA for details of what’s coming next.

Where do the Celtics go from here?

And in place of Odoka, the Celtics will turn to assistant coach Joe Mazzola, according to a report by ESPN.

At just 34 years old, Mazzulla is in charge of a team that comes out of a final round and is expecting another team. This would be a daunting task for any coach, let alone a coach who has no experience as the main voice of an NBA team. The good news for Celtics fans is that Mazzulla appears to be well liked throughout the organization.

“The players love and respect him,” a Celtics source said. When asked about Mazzulla during last year’s playoffs, Celtics star Jayson Tatum said, “I love Joe… [I] I can’t say enough good things about Joe, everyone appreciates what he brings to this team, and I’m happy to have him.”

Mazzulla, who as a base guard helped lead West Virginia to the NCAA Final Four in 2010, first joined the Celtics in 2016, as an assistant to the G League team, the Maine Red Claws. The following season, he left to become the Vermont State Division Two head coach, where he remained for three years before moving to Brad Stevens’ coaching staff with the Celtics in 2019. The job was a dream come true for the Rhode Island native, according to friends, rooted in the Celtics as he grew up .

Player development was his primary focus. He worked closely with Kimba Walker, among others.

“The players took him in,” said Scott Morrison, the Celtics’ assistant at the time and head coach of Mazola during his time with the Red Claus. “It tells them what it is without being rude and in my experience the guys are like that. They love to be trained.”

He reached out to the players because he was competitive like them. Example: During the bubble, he and Morrison chose swimming as a hobby. Within a few days, Morrison said, Mazola watched hours of searching on YouTube for proper techniques and strategies so as not to lose a race.

In June 2021, Stevens resigned as head coach and became the Celtics’ general manager. Soon, he hired Odoka. Mazola was one of only two of Stevens’ lieutenants to be retained.

“I spoke to everyone in the organization when I was hired, including the players, and he got great reviews,” Odoka said of Mazzulla in June. “I didn’t know much about him getting into it, but I do value players’ opinions and he was a man with a unanimous yes.”

Odoka promoted Mazola to the “Bench Front” job. It handed him more of the X and O’s responsibility. Mazola worked with former principal assistant Will Hardy on game planning. Players notice a difference.

“He has become more knowledgeable, detailed, more outspoken, and more comfortable in his role as coach,” Tatum said last spring. “I’ve seen the growth since his first year, and it has helped me tremendously as a player and as a person.”

Tatum wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Mazola interviewed regarding the vacant Jazz coach position this summer. Instead, Utah, led by former Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, hired Hardy — but then tried to appoint Mazola as his main assistant, according to people familiar with the situation. The Celtics had already planned to raise Mazola to the role of Hardy, but in the wake of Utah’s pursuit, they also gave him a raise.

The Celtics know Mazzulla will have to deal with a learning curve — don’t be surprised if they add a former head coach or veteran assistant coach to their team — and they know that Udoka’s success in inculcating a culture of accountability and selflessness has helped them turn their tide. last season and reach the finals.

But they also have a loaded roster and believe that at Mazola they still have a head coach who knows the strengths and weaknesses of the group and the best way to move the pieces.

You never know how someone will react to being the boss, the one who has the last word and in a position to blame when things go wrong. But Mazzulla’s colleagues, friends, and superiors – most importantly – are confident that he can pick up where Udoka left off.

How are others reacting throughout the league

The long-awaited question is: Will the team pick up where it left off? And if not, does Mazulla have the presence and personality to put him on the right track?

The Celtics were struggling until the middle of the season last year when Odoka publicly demanded more of his co-stars, Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, particularly in defence.

“[Udoka’s] He’s had such a wonderful presence,” said one GM at the Eastern Conference. He challenged these guys early on. He was not afraid. They answered him, and did not hesitate. It’s Larry Brown’s rule: We can find ways to score, but can we push players to defend and bounce? This is the hard part. I got it for defense and recoil.”

Coaches willing and able to challenge their superstars and get them to respond are a rare breed, even in the NBA. Rival CEOs and scouts doubt the Celtics will be able to find head coaches for the first year in a row with the ability to recover from a slow start.

“You should think the entire Boston Celtics organization is sick now,” said the Eastern Conference general manager. “Quite sick. They’ve been legitimate contenders for the title. It puts them on a really slippery slope. Let’s say they got off to a good start, I think they can keep going. But if they make any kind of shaky start, they will be fingered, the leadership will be questioned. They will be questioned. Write it down and talk about it, and it’s likely to get into everyone’s heads.”

There is no record of a former NBA coach being suspended for having an affair with someone in the organization, although league sources have said over the years that the discovery of extramarital affairs was a factor in the firing of many coaches and executives, even if they were not publicly cited. at that time.

There have been similar incidents at the university level with varying repercussions. Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino was fired in 2012 over an affair he had with a former women’s volleyball player he had hired as his assistant. Bucky Chatman, now an assistant coach with WNBA Seattle Storm, resigned as LSU’s women’s basketball coach in 2007 after it was reported that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a former player while that player was a member of the team. And Rick Pettino, the former Louisville men’s basketball coach, broke an ethical clause in his contract by having sex with a woman at an Italian restaurant — the woman later married the team’s equipment manager — but the Cardinals chose not to fire Pettino.

Whether there will be opposition within the league over Odoka’s penalty is still up in the air. Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, did not respond to a text message seeking comment, and the NBCA did not issue a statement regarding Udoka.

How might this affect Odoka and Celtics in the long run

Just three months ago, Odoka and the Celtics were very close to the top of the NBA. Now, the Celtics, who are still considered the Eastern Conference favorites after reclaiming their core of Jason Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jalen Brown, will have to figure out how to play without their captain.

It’s a tough break for the team that credited Odoka with turning them 23-24 early last season to second with a record 51-31.

The question now becomes: How much will this affect the future success of the Celtics?

“Over the course of the season, Boston has some dynamic players and [they] An NBA scout said, “They’ve built a culture on the court of rigor and competition, talent will help them. But make no mistake, losing Odoka would be a huge blow because he did a great job last season.”

Odoka expertly walked the tightrope calling his players tough while making them believe in themselves at the same time, establishing himself as an outstanding coach in his first year at the gig. He led the Celtics to a record 26-6 in their last 32 games, and helped them in the playoffs with wins over Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami.

During the NBA Finals, the Celtics hailed their soft-spoken captain who was known for his brutal honesty and quickly gained the trust and respect of everyone around him.

“It’s plain and simple. I think his energy was contagious to all of us,” Smart said after the Celtics opened the finals with an unexpected victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game One in San Francisco.

For Odoka, his star has finally risen after establishing himself as one of the league’s key helpers after nine seasons with San Antonio, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

He showed the world that in his first season as a head coach, he placed fourth on the NBA Coach of the Year poll.

“It holds everyone accountable from top to bottom, you know, open door policy,” Tatum said in May. “…I think it’s great for the group and what we’re trying to achieve.”

Now, it’s fair to wonder if this comment might hold back his rise. According to a TNT report, Odoka will not resign, but his future after the 2022-23 season remains unclear.

Regardless, in a league where there are only 30 head coaching positions, many of which are revolving doors, the big stoppage is a clear blow to a budding career.

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


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