Celtics must bite the bullet and fire Ime Udoka to contend this season
How the mighty have fallen. And when they fall, it’s with a loud, thunderous crash. Ime Udoka is at the center of a messy scandal just three months after leading the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals in his first season as head coach. We’ll discuss why the resolution to this current whirlpool of controversy might be Udoka’s firing from Boston.
Ime Udoka was formally suspended by the team on Thursday for the whole 2022-23 season, barely a day after various sports outlets reported that he had a consensual intimate relationship with a member of the team staff that broke organizational protocol.
As a response, Udoka released his own statement.
“I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics 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.”
Ime Udoka has released a statement regarding his one-year suspension: pic.twitter.com/eFMQQd14d8
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) September 23, 2022
The organization and the entire league will feel the repercussions of this extraordinary penalty in the coming days. The first such repercussion is finding his replacement. In Udoka’s place, the Celtics will turn to assistant coach Joe Mazzulla.
Mazzulla, 34, takes over a squad coming off a Finals run and expecting another. This would be a difficult challenge for any coach, let alone one who has never been the primary voice in an NBA locker room. To his credit, Mazzulla looks to be well-liked within the company, which is excellent news for Celtics fans.
Mazzulla actually led West Virginia to the NCAA Final Four as a point guard in 2010. He can play. He also originally joined the Celtics organization in 2016 as an assistant for their G League team, the Maine Red Claws. The next season, he became the head coach of Division II school Fairmont State, where he stayed for three years before joining Brad Stevens’ coaching staff with the Celtics in 2019. His initial assignment revolved around player development, but he was eventually promoted to the “front of the bench.”
This year, Mazzula even interviewed for the Jazz’s head coaching position. Obviously, Utah went with someone else, but according to individuals familiar with the issue, the Jazz wanted to employ Mazzulla as his main assistant. The Celtics got wind of this and rightfully gave him a raise.
The Celtics understand Mazzulla will face a learning curve. He will likely need more seasoned personalities to prop up his staff for the coming season.
Maybe the biggest concern, however, is whether the Celtics will pick up where they left off last season. If they hit a rough patch or two, does Mazulla have the pull to get right the ship and get them back on track?
As an aside, fans have also dug up Mazzulla’s background. They have also stumbled upon a domestic battery charge he had way back in 2009.
So, who's new #Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla?
-Johnston, RI native
-Coached D2 Fairmont State
-Joined C's staff in 2019
-Interviewed for #Jazz head coaching job before promotion to Celts bench coach
-Arrested, charged with domestic battery as WVU student in 2009
— Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman) September 23, 2022
That brings us to the crux of this situation and why the Celtics must bite the bullet and fire Ime Udoka to contend this season.
The Boston Celtics need a more long-term solution than having Joe Mazzulla as a plugin. Whether or not Mazzulla keeps the Celtics afloat and whether or not they remain among the East’s elite, the Celtics need to permanently move on from Udoka.
Udoka is a good and accomplished basketball coach. Having said that, this will likely erode most if not all of his moral and political capital in the organization. Even if many or even all of his players continue to want to play for him after this season, who’s to say their relationships will ever be the same? Who’s to say free agents in 2023 would want to play for him, too?
Udoka established a culture of accountability and selflessness in Boston last season. That helped them turn their season around and reach the Finals. Now he’s the one at the eye of the storm. As such, he should uphold that high level of accountability as well.
This is not really a judgment of Udoka’s character or his ability to redeem himself. This is an objective appraisal of the team’s situation and what is best for the organization moving forward.
Take note as well that Udoka’s current situation is taking over all sports headlines. All this while the NBA is still managing the fallout from Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver’s own scandal. To say that the league needs to send a clear message cannot be overstated. And the Boston Celtics need to get ahead of that given the whirling dervish of crazy happening in and around the team.
From a purely competitive perspective, it would also do well for the Celtics to have a new coach onboard. If Mazzulla does really well this season, they should promote him to head coach next year. If he drops the ball, then there’s a slew of experienced and decorated would-be coaches who’ll be eager to steer the Big Green after Udoka’s era ends.
And again, it should end. It would be a tragic and ill-timed end, but that’s how things like this go. I, for one, would love to see Udoka have a great redemption arc. However, part of redemption is accountability and facing all the painful consequences that follow. Being fired from the Boston Celtics is one of them. Many Celtics fans, in fact, are lobbying for it already, and I can see why.