Boston Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said the organization’s decision to suspend Ime Udoka for the entire 2022-23 NBA season came after an investigation by an independent law firm uncovered multiple violations of team policies.
“I am concerned about the situation and its impact on everybody in the Celtics’ organization,” Grousbeck said during a news conference Friday morning at the team’s practice facility. “I do hope this represents the beginning of a new chapter, and a chance to turn the page and move forward with things, to some extent, resolved.”
Both Grousbeck and Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said little about the specifics of the case involved, or what policies Udoka violated. Sources previously told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Udoka had an intimate relationship with a female member of the franchise’s staff.
Grousbeck said once the organization had been made aware of a potential situation in the organization within the past few weeks, it hired the law firm to conduct an investigation, which concluded Wednesday.
It was at that point the team chose to suspend Udoka for a full season, with Grousbeck saying the suspension will end June 30, 2023 — the final day of the 2022-23 league year. He said it would come with a “significant” financial penalty, and that no one besides Udoka within the organization was going to be disciplined as a result of the investigation.
Other than that, however, both Grousbeck and Stevens offered few specifics on what transpired and how the decision came to be, nor would they discuss what it would take for Udoka to return to the organization after his suspension ends, saying only that it would be discussed “at a later date,” as the team said in its statement Thursday night.
Stevens also declined to answer when asked directly whether Udoka would be able to have contact with anyone within the organization during his suspension.
Grousbeck did, however, defend the decision to suspend Udoka for the entire season, saying on multiple occasions it was the right outcome.
“We’re not going to get into our deliberations,” Grousbeck said. “This felt right, but there’s no clear guidelines for any of this. It’s conscience and gut feel.
“We collectively came to this and got there but it was not clear what to do but it was clear something substantial needed to be done, and it was.”
Stevens began his remarks by getting emotional, speaking of the impact the past couple of days had on women throughout the organization.
“It’s been a hard time,” Stevens said. “The only thing I would like to say is that I thought, and Wyc mentioned it already, we have a lot of talented women in our organization and I thought [Thursday] was really hard on them.
“Nobody can control Twitter speculation and rampant bulls—, but I do think we as an organization have a responsibility to support them now, because a lot of people were dragged unfairly into that.”
“I do hope this represents the beginning of a new chapter, and a chance to turn the page and move forward with things, to some extent, resolved.”
Wyc Grousbeck, Celtics owner
Stevens confirmed that assistant coach Joe Mazzulla, 34, would be taking over on an interim basis. Mazzulla is tied with former Celtics assistant and current Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy as the youngest coaches in the league. Mazzulla’s only head-coaching experience is two seasons at a Division II college, Fairmont State in West Virginia, before being hired by Stevens as an assistant in 2019.
Still, Stevens believes Mazzulla is the right person.
“Joe’s going to be in charge,” Stevens said. “It’s not an easy timing for him or the rest of the staff. But he’s an exceptionally sharp and talented person. I believe strongly in him and his ability to lead people, his ability to galvanize a room and get behind him, and his ability to organize and understand all that comes with running a team during the season.”
Stevens was asked if he considered taking over, given he’d spent eight years coaching the Celtics and leading them to the Eastern Conference finals three times before moving to replace Danny Ainge last summer and hiring Udoka to coach. Stevens said he did not — though Grousbeck chimed in that there was a brief conversation between the two about it.
“There’s a lot of factors in play of why I wouldn’t necessarily even want to do that,” Stevens said. “But I do think that — and I’ve told Joe this — I’m going to be there for him, without stepping on his toes, as much as he needs.
“But he doesn’t need much. I believe in that strongly.”
Stevens addressed Mazzulla’s arrests while he was a student at West Virginia University. He was arrested in 2008 for underage drinking and aggravated assault, a case in which he pleaded guilty and paid a fine, and then in 2009 for domestic battery after an incident at a Morgantown bar, a case that was settled out of court and didn’t go to trial.
When he hired Mazzulla as an assistant coach in 2019, Stevens said he “thoroughly” vetted Mazzulla, and those incidents in particular, and said he believes Mazzulla has learned from them and that Stevens himself personally believes in Mazzulla’s character.
“I will tell you this: I believe strongly in Joe’s substantiveness as a person,” Stevens said. “I believe strongly, and he’ll tell you, he’s been very open with me about how those moments impacted him in every which way and you can see it in the way he carries himself. You could see that for a long time. We’ve had years to get to know him.
“I believe strongly that that probably shaped him into who he is today in a really, really good way. But he’ll be the first to tell you, he’s 110% accountable for that, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I believe in him.”
Grousbeck said that both he and Stevens have met with the players ahead of training camp starting next week and he said he would characterize their feelings as “very concerned” about what has transpired.
“It’s not a welcome development,” Grousbeck said.
“But they also, I felt, have energy and focus and commitment and drive to really accomplish great things hopefully this season. So that’s the commitment I’m feeling from the players and I bet, based on last year and based on everything we know about them, I think that we will be fulfilled.”