The Celtics begin their 2022-23 season Tuesday night, and when they do, it will be with a new head coach. Joe Mazzulla is the Celtics’ third coach in as many seasons, replacing Ime Udoka, who is serving a yearlong suspension for “violations of team policies,” specifically engaging in an improper relationship with a female staff member.
There’s no guarantee Udoka will retain his position after the suspension, particularly if Mazzulla (who the Celtics blocked from interviewing with Utah this offseason) has success. Details remain scarce, leading some to wonder if there’s more to the story. Regardless, the decision to suspend rather than outright fire Udoka was a curious one, though ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith thinks he may have an explanation for that.
“I believe part of the reason he was suspended but not fired is because the Boston Celtics did not want him to end up in Brooklyn,” opined Smith. “I believe that if Ime Udoka had been fired by the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets would have fired Steve Nash and brought that brother back and he would be the coach of the Brooklyn Nets right now.”
Smith, at this stage in his media career, is more of an entertainer than an analyst, frequently posing wild, unsubstantiated theories in an effort to go viral. However, this one is actually plausible given Udoka’s ties to both Brooklyn (he was an assistant there prior to joining the Celtics) and Kevin Durant, who he coached during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. When Durant sought a trade this summer it was believed his request was related, at least in part, to his doubts about Steve Nash, pressuring ownership to make a head-coaching change. Following that logic, reuniting Udoka with Durant, with the added bonus of poaching him from a division rival, makes plenty of sense. Smith suspects the Celtics have already accounted for that possibility, hence why Udoka still has a job, at least for now.
“That’s no source material, no insider information, that’s just my personal opinion. KD wanting to be traded. KD asking out of his deal. Reportedly wanting Steve Nash and [GM] Sean Marks gone,” said Smith, presenting his hypothesis on First Take. “Had [Udoka] been fired, he would have been coaching in Brooklyn. And if that brother was coaching KD, Kyrie and Ben Simmons, Lord have mercy.”
Until the scandal broke, Udoka had been lauded as a terrific hire, leading the Celtics to a conference title in his first season. Meanwhile, Mazzulla becomes the Celtics' youngest head coach since Dave Cowens pulled double duty as a player/coach in 1978.