For privacy reasons that were repeatedly cited, the Celtics shed little light on the circumstances that led to suspending head coach Ime Udoka for the entirety of the 2022-23 season.
During a news conference, the Celtics brain trust said the one-year ban after “violations of team policies” – which reportedly included an inappropriate, consensual relationship with a female Celtics staffer – was “well-warranted” and “backed by substantial research and evidence and fact.”
Those are the words of Wyc Grousbeck, the majority owner and governor of the Celtics, who along with president of basketball operations Brad Stevens continually stated the team could not comment directly on the events that led to the suspension.
The Celtics were alerted to “a potential situation” involving Udoka over the summer, they said, which led to the hiring of an independent law firm that conducted an investigation.
“The investigation had some twists and turns, and it took some time to develop all the facts,” Grousbeck told reporters in Boston on Friday, one day after the announcement. “Everything we know was wrapped up two days ago.”
The Celtics said no one else – including the woman reportedly involved – has been disciplined or is expected to be disciplined. Udoka is facing a “significant financial penalty,” Grousbeck said, after the investigation found “a couple of violations” by a head coach who led the Celtics to the Finals last season.
Team icon Paul Pierce tweeted the punishment “should just be a fine not a suspension.” The Celtics acknowledged reaching the one-year-ban decision was not simple.
“This felt right, but there’s no clear guidelines for any of this,” said Grousbeck, who added a “diverse group” of advisers weighed in on the decision. “I took a lot of advice from partners like Brad and others. We collectively came to this and got there, but it was not clear what to do.
“But it was clear that something substantial needed to be done, in my view, and it was.”
Stevens grew most emotional when reflecting upon the social media speculation that took off when reports emerged concerning the relationship. Twitter users attempted to narrow down Udoka’s partner by digging in to women who are employed by the Celtics.
“We have a lot of talented women in our organization,” said Stevens, who has been with the organization for nearly a decade. “I thought [Thursday] was really hard on them. I think that nobody can control Twitter speculation and rampant bulls–t, but I do think that we as an organization have a responsibility to make sure we’re there to support them now because a lot of people were dragged unfairly into that.”
Stevens and Grousbeck met with the players, who are “very concerned” about this, Grousbeck said. Assistant Joe Mazzulla will be the interim head coach. Stevens, who coached the team from 2013-21, said he was “absolutely not” thinking about returning to the bench.
In handing out a one-year suspension that runs through June 30, 2023 — rather than a slap on the wrist or an outright firing — the Celtics will be in an awkward position next summer. They said they are undecided about their future head coach.
“I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization, and my family for letting them down,” Udoka said in a statement. “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.”