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The Boston Celtics plan to discipline coach Ime Udoka, likely with a suspension, for an inappropriate relationship with an organization member, two people with knowledge of the matter told The Associated Press on Thursday.
People spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because the reigning Eastern Conference champions have not released any details publicly. The exact penalty, including the length of the possible suspension, has not been specified.
One of the people who spoke to AP said the Celtics had decided that assistant coach Joe Mazzulla should temporarily take over the team for the duration of Udoka’s suspension.
ESPN was the first outlet to report Wednesday night for the first time that a suspension for violating team rules was being considered. ESPN and The Athletic later reported that the Celtics’ investigation revolves around whether Udoka had an improper relationship with a woman who is part of the organization.
The loss of Udoka would be a huge blow to a team that is widely regarded as one of the favorites to contend for the NBA title this season, after falling just two games short of winning the championship last season – Udoka’s first year as manager of the NBA Boston.
Boston moved early in the market by acquiring Malcolm Brogdon in a trade with Indiana to bolster its already strong shooting roster. He also signed veteran striker Danilo Gallinari in free agency.
But Gallinari tore the ACL in his left knee last month and will be out next season. Center Robert Williams, a key defensive player for the team, is suffering from knee problems and is unlikely to be able to play early in the season.
They also sounded like a target for a possible trade with Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant. Durant asked to be transferred, but eventually withdrew.
The Celtics start their training camp on Tuesday. Mazzulla was interviewed this summer for the Utah Jazz coaching job, a job eventually landed by Will Hardy, who was Udoka’s assistant in Boston last season.
Udoka’s other assistant coaches are Damon Stoudemire, Ben Sullivan, Aaron Miles and Tony Dobbins.
Udoka had a brilliant first season as Celtics coach, finishing 51-31 in the regular season – 26-6 in the last 32 games – and leading Boston past Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami on his way to the NBA Finals. The Celtics lost the title streak in six games to the Golden State Warriors.