The Boston Celtics have suspended coach Aimee Odoka for the 2022-23 season, effective immediately, and without guarantee that he will return with the franchise.
The Celtics said Thursday night that Udoka has been suspended for “violations of team policies.” Earlier on Thursday, two people familiar with the matter said that Udoka had been punished for an inappropriate relationship with a member of the organization. These people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team has not released those details publicly.
“A decision about his future with the Celtics after this season will be made at a later time,” the Celtics said.
Odoka apologized, in a statement published by ESPN, but did not provide details.
“I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization, and my family for letting them down. I’m 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.”
One of the people who spoke with the AP said Celtics assistant coach Joe Mazzola will take over on a temporary basis.
Mazzola interviewed the Utah Jazz as coach this summer, a position that eventually passed to Will Hardy, one of Udoka’s assistants at Boston last season. Odoka’s other assistant coaches were Damon Stoudemire, Ben Sullivan, Aaron Miles and Tony Dobbins.
Odoka had an impressive first season with the Celtics, finishing the regular season at 51-31 – going 26-6 in his last 32 games – and leading Boston over Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami on their way to the NBA Finals. The Celtics lost the title series to the Golden State Warriors in six games.
Udoka’s loss would be a huge blow to a team that is widely considered among the favorites to contend for the NBA title this season.
The developments are reminiscent of changes across town in 2020 when Red Sox coach Alex Cora was suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for his role in the signal-stealing scandal at his previous job, with the Houston Astros. Instead, the two sides parted.
After finishing last under Ron Roenke in the pandemic shortened season, Cora was reassigned a year later and was welcomed back.
It is unclear if Odoka will follow this path.
The 45-year-old Udoka spent the greater part of his NBA career with San Antonio, then continued his time with Tottenham coach Greg Popovich by joining his team as an assistant. Oduka was a member of the Tottenham staff from 2012 until 2019, and it didn’t take long for him to become one of the names that tended to appear on the shortlist of candidates when head coach positions opened.
He spent the 2019-20 season in Philadelphia, the 2020-21 season in Brooklyn, then was appointed by the Celtics in June 2021 to succeed Brad Stevens – who moved into a front-office position.
“The future is bright and we’re just getting started,” Odoka said after the NBA Finals.
The Celtics will hold a media day, a session where coaches, players and executives meet with journalists, on Monday and open training camp on Tuesday. The absence of Odoka – who was the fourth coach in the NBA this year on the ballot last season – will overshadow what was supposed to be the start of a season full of high expectations.
It also adds to a series of key issues the club faces at the beginning of practices.
Boston made some big moves early in the off-season, acquiring Malcolm Brogdon on a deal from Indiana to bolster an already strong back area, then adding veteran shooting forward Danilo Galinari as a free agent.
But last month, Gallinari ruptured the ACL in his left knee and will lose next season. The Robert Williams center, a large part of the Boston defensive scheme that played through knee problems during the playoffs last season, is still dealing with knee problems and is not expected to be ready to start this season.
The Celtics were also prominently mentioned in the commercial speculation surrounding Brooklyn forward Kevin Durant, a perennial All-Star who wanted to be relocated by the Nets — and that demand waned several weeks later. It would have taken a whole lot of players, including likely Jaylen Brown, to land on Durant, and the trade talk will likely leave some wondering about their future in Boston.
Mazzola’s only previous experience as a head coach is a two-year stint in Division Two at Vermont in West Virginia, where he went 43-17 and climbed to the NCAA Championship in his second season. Mazola, a New England native from Rhode Island, played college basketball in West Virginia and was an assistant to the Celtics’ G League before taking up his role at Fairmont State, then was hired by the Celtics back in June 2019 to be part of the staff Stevens.
Mazzulla’s last game at Fairmont State was against Mercyhurst. His first real game for the Celtics will get a little better attention and attendance – against Philadelphia, in Boston, on October 18 in the first game of the new NBA season.
It’s the second major disciplinary situation in as many weeks in the NBA, after Commissioner Adam Silver’s decision last week to suspend Robert Sarver – owner of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA – for one year and a $10 million fine following an investigation. He showed his disturbing behavior pattern in the workplace, including abusive and racist language. Sarver said Wednesday that he plans to sell his teams.