The independent law firm probe into Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate prior to the start of an improper workplace relationship with the woman, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his one-year suspension, sources told ESPN.
Those investigative findings — which described verbiage on Udoka’s part that was deemed especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contribute to what is likely a difficult pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach in 2023, sources told ESPN.
The power dynamic associated with a superior’s improper relationship with a staff member was the primary finding and policy violation cited in the law firm’s report, which was commissioned by the Celtics and completed early last week, sources said.
At a news conference last week, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said the suspension — which extends through June 30, 2023 — was a product of multiple violations of team policies, and sources told ESPN the Celtics won’t stand in Udoka’s way should he have the chance to become a coaching candidate elsewhere. There are teams that have tried to gather a preliminary understanding of the full explanation for Udoka’s suspension in preparation for possibly evaluating him for future coaching employment, sources told ESPN.
Grousbeck also said Udoka would be receiving a cut in his salary during the suspension.
In his first season, Udoka, 45, led the Celtics to an Eastern Conference championship and NBA Finals berth, where Boston lost in six games to the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics return a team expected again to be a championship favorite, and Udoka had appeared destined for a long runway as the franchise’s coach after replacing Brad Stevens, who moved into the front-office role previously occupied by Danny Ainge during the 2021 offseason.
Grousbeck said during the news conference that no one else else within the organization faced discipline as a result of the investigation. The Celtics wouldn’t confirm the nature of the violations, but Stevens, the team’s president of basketball operations, became emotional when describing the number of women employed by the Celtics who were targeted by unfounded social media rumors and allegations.
The Celtics promoted assistant coach Joe Mazzulla to interim coach for the upcoming season. Mazzulla, 34, is well-regarded inside and outside of the Celtics organization and counts Stevens among his most significant supporters. Mazzulla was a finalist for the Utah Jazz head-coaching job over the summer that went to top Celtics assistant Will Hardy.
Grousbeck and Stevens would not elaborate on the criteria Udoka would need to meet to return to coaching the Celtics following his suspension.
Grousbeck defended the Celtics’ decision to suspend Udoka for the entire season, insisting it was the proper response based on the probe’s findings.
“This felt right, but there’s no clear guidelines for any of this,” he said. “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.”
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.