It was a curious quote that now reads differently in the aftermath of Ime Udoka’s yearlong suspension from the Celtics. Earlier this month, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck told the Globe he thinks the C’s are being “overrated.”
Perhaps that was our first hint that something was amiss on Causeway Street.
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Grousbeck downplayed expectations for the Celtics in response to a question about last season’s Finals run.
“I loved being right there with them. It was thrilling. The other side of the coin is, I think that we’ve now been overrated,” said Grousbeck to Adam Himmelsbach. “I think that performance was a bit overrated in the public mind, or my own mind, because I’m the one saying it. [We were] a finalist and two wins away from winning it, but when you look back, Brooklyn was a tough series, and then we had to go seven games [against the Bucks and Heat]. Then we lost [to Golden State]. So, we’re not a hands-down team to repeat as Eastern Conference champions. I think we’re a quality team.”
While there’s good reason for Grousbeck to temper expectations — it’s toxic for any team owner to declare “championship or bust” heading into a season — his comments were notable. Essentially, Grousbeck was saying the Celtics could’ve lost any series leading up to the Finals, so don’t get too excited.
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Now, Grousbeck's remarks make more sense. The Celtics confirmed Friday they’ve suspended Udoka for multiple violations of team guidelines. Udoka reportedly had an affair with a female staffer and made “unwanted comments” towards her.
Grousbeck and president of basketball operations Brad Stevens didn’t add much detail when they spoke to reporters Friday.
But when Grousbeck spoke to Himmelsbach two weeks ago, he hinted there could be trouble on the horizon.
“I am [trying to tamp down expectations], but I’m not trying to do that in some manipulative way. It’s how I feel,” he said. “Look, I wouldn’t pick anybody ahead of us. But I don’t think we’ve got any smooth sailing ahead. We were a good team last year that won some key close games and were in the mix. But I don’t have us as the favorites. There are five or six co-favorites, as far as I’m concerned.”
Grousbeck might be talking about the on-court situation, too. Veteran sharpshooter Danilo Gallinaro will likely miss the season with an ACL tear, and Robert Williams III will be out for an estimated 8-12 weeks after undergoing knee surgery. The Celtics depth has taken a significant hint before training camp even starts.
But Grousbeck also knew about the Udoka situation when he spoke to Himmelsbach in mid-September (the piece was published Sept. 16). The Celtics reportedly found out about the inappropriate relationship in July, and hired a law firm to investigate the matter.
It definitely hasn’t been “smooth sailing” since news of Udoka’s wrongdoing leaked Wednesday night. Grousbeck was right about that.