The Boston Celtics took on the press for the first time since their head coach, Ime Udoka, was suspended for violations of team policies after reportedly having a consensual relationship with a female staffer in the organization.
The players were taken by surprise with the news breaking last week just before the preseason was about to be in full swing.
“I guess I feel like everybody else. Just a lot to process,” All-Star forward Jayson Tatum said via NBC Sports Boston, adding that he hasn’t spoken with Udoka. “Unexpected, especially coming into this season you feel a certain way coming off last year. You’re excited, trying to do all these things and just a lot if I’m being honest. I guess along with everybody else just still trying to process it all knowing that we have practice tomorrow.”
Guard Marcus Smart added: “The initial reaction was literally a state of shock. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. … It’s hitting us from all angles, and we’re just trying to figure it out just like everybody else. Everybody was in attendance to the meeting. We wanted to know. They told us what they knew, and it took off from there.
Smart believes that the Celtics handled the situation “the right way,” as Udoka was suspended for the entire 2022-2023 season and an evaluation is currently going on to determine what to do after that.
However, because the decision was so swift, Smart is hoping more answers come out about the situation soon.
“It’s frustrating from all ends of not knowing, not understanding, because you don’t know. You just try to focus on the things you can control and the things you know,” he said.
“From what we do know, the organization has handled it the right way, although we didn’t know as much of what we do now. We’re OK with that, but we would still like to know, like you said, because of the simple fact that it did happen so fast and everything that we started to build is starting over in a sense now.”
But the Celtics, who made it to the NBA Finals last season but lost to the Golden State Warriors, must move forward with their season under interim head coach Joe Mazzulla, an assistant coach under Udoka.
“He’s somebody that we all respect and that we’re going to be rallying behind him, and we’re going to really put in the time and the work to get this done,” veteran forward Al Horford said.
The suspension of Udoka came after a months-long investigation into the matter over the summer. Celtics majority owner Wyc Grousbeck and president of basketball operations Brad Stevens spoke at a press conference announcing the decision, saying an external law firm was used to conduct the investigation.
“We learned over the summer, some part of the summer, that there was a situation,” Grousbeck said. “Called in the law firm at that point, and the investigation had some twists and turns and took some time to develop all the facts.”
Udoka issued a statement of apology last Thursday evening.
“I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization, and my family for letting them down,” Udoka said. “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’ first preseason matchup and Mazzulla’s head coaching debut will come this Sunday when they take on the Charlotte Hornets at TD Garden in Boston.