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Celtics suspend head coach Ime Udoka for 2022-23 season

Ime Udoka led the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals in his first season as an NBA head coach, but he will miss the upcoming season because of a team suspension for an improper relationship. (Steven Senne/AP)
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Ime Udoka won’t be on the sidelines for the Boston Celtics’ title chase, and his future with the organization is in question.

The Celtics announced Thursday that Udoka, who led the franchise to the NBA Finals in his first season as head coach, is suspended for the entire 2022-23 season for “violations of team policies.” Udoka was involved in an improper intimate relationship with a female staffer, multiple people with knowledge of the situation confirmed, and the Celtics said a decision about his future with the organization will be “made at a later date.”

The Celtics did not immediately name Udoka’s interim replacement. Assistant Joe Mazzulla is expected to serve as Udoka’s replacement during his suspension, which began Thursday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

“I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization, and my family for letting them down,” Udoka said in a statement. “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.”

ESPN and the Athletic first reported details surrounding Udoka’s punishment, which comes less than a week before the Celtics open training camp and less than a month before their regular season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 18.

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Udoka, 45, emerged as a rising star in the coaching ranks last season, guiding Boston to 51 wins and its first Eastern Conference championship since 2010. Credited for holding Boston’s stars accountable and motivating a roster that had underperformed before his arrival, Udoka oversaw the NBA’s top-ranked defense and finished fourth in voting for coach of the year honors. During an impressive playoff run, the Celtics swept Kevin Durant’s Brooklyn Nets, dethroned Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks and outlasted Jimmy Butler’s Miami Heat before falling to the Golden State Warriors in six games.

Boston solidified its position as a leading title favorite by acquiring guard Malcolm Brogdon from the Indiana Pacers in a July trade. The Celtics return Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Al Horford, among other key pieces from last year’s team. However, center Robert Williams III will be sidelined for at least a month following a recent knee surgery, and forward Danilo Gallinari, an offseason addition, could miss the entire season after tearing the ACL in his left knee in August.

A former NBA player, Udoka spent seven seasons with five different NBA teams before joining the San Antonio Spurs’ coaching staff in 2012. Udoka, who spent the 2019-20 season as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers and the 2020-21 season in the same role with the Nets, also served as a USA Basketball assistant under Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Celtics hired Udoka as part of a 2021 overhaul that saw longtime president Danny Ainge depart and former coach Brad Stevens promoted to the front office. Boston lost former assistant coach Will Hardy in June when Ainge, now CEO of the Utah Jazz, hired him to his first head coaching position.

Mazzulla, 34, joined the Celtics in 2019 as an assistant coach under Stevens following a previous stint as an assistant with Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. This summer, the Rhode Island native interviewed for the Jazz’s head coaching position before it went to Hardy.

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