The Boston Celtics were headed into the 2022-23 NBA regular season as the favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals months after being just two games away from the organization’s first championship since 2008.
The additions of Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari during the offseason added much-needed depth, and in another season under head coach Ime Udoka, the Celtics figured to be even better defensively.
Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka talks to Jayson Tatum, #0, Payton Pritchard, #11, Derrick White, #9, and Daniel Theis, #27 during Game Two of the 2022 NBA Finals on June 5, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco.
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Then, the nightmare began for the Celtics.
Gallinari suffered a torn ACL, starting center Robert Williams underwent knee surgery and Udoka was suspended for the entirety of the season for “violations of team policies.” Udoka reportedly had a consensual relationship with a female staffer within the Celtics organization.
It has been a strange situation in Boston, as the details regarding Udoka’s suspension have not been clear, even to the players, who have not been allowed to speak with Udoka during the suspension.
“It really doesn’t matter what we say [to the front office],” Marcus Smart told The Boston Globe. “We can voice our opinion, but I’m sure it’s going to be, ‘Yeah, we hear you.’ And that’s it.
“I’m sure they know how certain people feel. But it is tough, because there’s only so much that they can say. It’s a tough spot for everybody. It just sucks all around.”
Assistant coach Joe Mazzulla was named the interim head coach while Udoka serves out his suspension. The thought was that Udoka would return to the Celtics next season, but that no longer is looking like a possibility.
Marcus Smart, #36 of the Boston Celtics, looks on against the Washington Wizards during the first quarter at TD Garden on October 30, 2022 in Boston.
(Nick Grace/Getty Images)
On Tuesday, the Brooklyn Nets fired head coach Steve Nash just seven games into the regular season, and Udoka was quickly rumored to be next in line.
The Celtics reportedly allowed Brooklyn to speak with their suspended head coach and will let him “leave freely.”
“His name got slandered and slaughtered, and it was ‘He’ll probably never coach again,’” Smart said. “And a couple of months later, now he’s possibly going to be the coach of one of our biggest rivals?
“It’s tough. It makes no sense. But we can’t control that. We have to control what we can, and I love the team here. I love the coaching staff. I love Joe.”
Celtics head coach Ime Udoka, left, did not agree with a referee in the second quarter. The Boston Celtics hosted the Golden State Warriors for Game Six of the NBA Finals at the TD Garden in Boston on June 17, 2022.
(Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Smart made sure to say that the roster is fully supportive of Mazulla, even as the team expresses disappointment that Udoka will no longer be the head coach moving forward.
“You can have more than one best friend,” Smart told The Globe. “That’s just kind of the relationship it is. We love Joe. We also love Ime, too. Joe understands that, and Joe loves him. But we’re definitely excited for Joe and proud of Joe and it’s not fair to Joe to have to keep hearing this either and go through what he’s going through.”
Boston is 4-3 on the season with a matchup against the Chicago Bulls Friday night.