The Celtics made the announcement at 9:21 p.m. Thursday, but it didn’t reveal much clarity.
A Celtics statement read: “The Boston Celtics announced today that the team has suspended coach Aim Odoka for the 2022-23 season for violating team policies. A decision will be made regarding his future with the Celtics after this season at a later time. The suspension is effective immediately.”
First reported late Wednesday night, Udoka was suspended after having an inappropriate intimate and consensual relationship with a member of the staff, which is a violation of the organization’s code of conduct, according to multiple reports.
Udoka released a statement, published by ESPN, which read: “I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire organization, and my family for letting them down. 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.”
The Celtics team did not say in the statement whether they will hold a press conference to address Udoka’s comment. The notification day has been set for Monday.
Details of the situation are still developing, but on the eve of training camp, the looming news of Odoka’s suspension is an astonishing development and a major hurdle that could derail the Celtics’ season with high expectations. Udoka, in his first season, led the Celtics to an impressive mid-season turnaround and advance to the NBA Finals. Three months later, C’s is entering this season as the favorite to win the NBA Championship.
The 45-year-old Odoka became head coach for the first time last year when the Celtics appointed him to replace Brad Stevens, who took over as CBS’ head of basketball operations. Udoka, who played seven seasons in the NBA, was a long-time assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs under Greg Popovich and worked two more jobs before joining Team C. After a difficult start to his first season, the Celtics bought Udoka as they turned into the best defense in the world. The NBA, and the players had praised him.
“When you have a coach who wants to hold you accountable, and not just you, but everyone on the team the same way, that’s how you know you have the ingredients for a great coach trying to get a spot,” said Marcus Smart. During the NBA Finals last June.
The Celtics are expected to make assistant coach Joe Mazzola their interim coach in Odoka’s absence, according to multiple reports. The 34-year-old Mazzulla is a Rhode Island native who starred at Bishop Hendricken High School before playing college basketball in West Virginia, but he doesn’t have extensive coaching experience. Mazola’s only major coaching job came at Vermont State, the second-tier school in West Virginia where he coached for two seasons before Stevens hired him as an assistant in 2019.
Still, Mazzulla is highly respected within the Celtics organization. When Udoka was hired last year, Mazzulla was the only Stevens employee remaining as an assistant. Mazzola coached the Celtics summer league team in 2021 and also interviewed the Utah Jazz opener this summer – before teammate Will Hardy got the job – though he’s not a front-bench assistant with C.
“I love Joe,” Celtics star Jason Tatum said in June. “I think just being around him…you can tell how passionate he is about men and his profession. He’s become more knowledgeable, more detailed, just more vocal. Much more comfortable in his role as coach. I’ve seen growth since his first year.”
“He has helped me immensely as a player and as a person. I cannot say enough good things about Joe. Everyone appreciates him, what he brings to this team. I am happy to have him.”
After a promising holiday that included the acquisition of Malcolm Brogdon, he was turned upside down when Chief C entered the camp. Danilo Gallinari has ruptured the ACL in his left knee, and Rob Williams will miss the start of the season to have left knee surgery. Now, Udoka’s suspension has created uncertainty over the Celtics’ future.
The Celtics will open their training camp on Tuesday.