Even as the Celtics got down to basketball with their NBA preseason opener Sunday, they seem resigned to the fact that mystery will be part of the club — just as sure as if it were holding down a spot on the roster.
The oddity of Ime Udoka‘s absence was brought into the Garden when public address announcer Eddie Palladino introduced “the coach of the Boston Celtics, Joe Mazzulla.”
The team has announced that Udoka’s suspension is for the entire season and that it is based on multiple violations of team policies, with sources confirming they are related to improper behavior toward a team employee. Udoka has accepted the punishment.
In an effort to handle things correctly from a legal standpoint, the club has not divulged details of Udoka’s transgressions, going as far as to offer no further explanation to the players.
There are, again, legal reasons for keeping the guys in sneakers, if not in the dark, then in as poorly lit a room as necessary to protect both them and the club.
Marcus Smart: ‘We Don’t Know Anything’
But as much as the players are intent on focusing on their work, the Udoka mystery is decidedly NOT a non-issue.
“That’s the thing, we don’t know anything,” Marcus Smart told Heavy Sports. “So I don’t know what they can and can’t talk about or what the legal reasons are. That’s not my business, and I don’t want it to be. They made a decision. Whatever they feel, they have every right. That’s why you have your lawyers and things like that. So whatever they can say, they’ll say.
“But it’s just tough, because we don’t know what they can say because of that reason. So it’s tough on both sides. But we’re here to play basketball. We’ll let those guys figure it out, and we’ll go from there.”
It can be a little strange, however, when Matt Barnes seems to know more about the Udoka details than the people Ime coached to the NBA Finals four months ago.
The former NBA player at first was critical of the potential punishment when there was talk of a “consensual relationship.”
Barnes subsequently posted a video saying, “Last night, without knowing all the facts, I spoke on Ime Judoka’s defense and after finding out the facts after I spoke, I erased what I posted because this situation in Boston is deep, it’s messy. It’s 100 times uglier than any of us thought. Some things happened that I can’t condone, I can’t back, and it’s not my place to tell you what happened. If it ends up coming out, it ends up coming out.”
Does Matt Barnes Know More Than Celtics Players?
Smart shrugged and offered half a laugh when it was suggested it might be a little hard that Barnes knows more than he and his teammates.
“I mean, it’s just what it is,” he said. “It’s not weird to me, you know? Somebody that’s not close to the situation in terms of being on the team, I guess it’d probably be a little bit easier for him to get more information than us. So I’m not surprised. It’s how these things can go.
“So we just have to wait and let it run its course and let everyone do their job and wait until they can tell us what they can tell us.”
Barnes has since pressed on in an interview with Vlad TV, implying that Udoka could be out of work for longer than this season.
“Boston will figure out a way, but you know if everything comes out, he’ll be lucky if he coaches in the NBA again, to be honest with you,” Barnes said. “It’s pretty heavy, man. It’s just some stuff you can’t do. Not judging, to each his own. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but if everything comes out it could get extra hot in the kitchen for him.”
There will undoubtedly be more drama as the Udoka story plays out, but on Sunday against the Hornets, the Celtics under their interim coach showed that, albeit in the preseason, ignorance of details was no obstacle to some blissful basketball. They ran and passed and romped to a 134-93 victory, perhaps delighting in the break from uneasy drama that welcomed them to training camp.