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Celtics Say Suspending Coach Ime Udoka Was a Matter of ‘Conscience’


BOSTON — Days before the beginning of coaching camp, the Celtics are reeling from an investigation, the suspension of their head coach and the sudden harsh public highlight on several female employees who, the team said, were being treated unfairly.

However the team is saying little about how the situation got up to now or how it might ultimately be resolved.

On Friday, Wyc Grousbeck, the Celtics’ majority owner, and Brad Stevens, their president of basketball operations, spoke publicly for the primary time because the team announced late Thursday that it had suspended Coach Ime Udoka for the 2022-23 season for unspecified “violations of team policies.”

An individual briefed on the matter who was not authorized to talk publicly about it said Udoka had an inappropriate relationship with a female team worker. Grousbeck cited “privacy reasons” in declining to elaborate on the character of Udoka’s misconduct.

The Celtics’ decision to suspend Udoka got here after a monthslong investigation into his conduct by an independent law firm, Grousbeck said.

“It’s a time of concern and reflection and motion,” he said. “We have now strong values on the Celtics, and we’re doing our greatest to uphold them here.”

Udoka, 45, coached the Celtics to the N.B.A. finals last season in his first 12 months within the role. Joe Mazzulla, certainly one of Udoka’s assistants, can be the team’s interim coach this season.

Grousbeck said he didn’t imagine that the situation involving Udoka indicated a bigger problem throughout the organization. He said Udoka was the one one who was punished or reprimanded, and that the Celtics wouldn’t name anyone else who could be involved.

“We go to great lengths — or appropriate lengths, at the very least — to run the organization with a core value of respect and freedom within the workplace from harassment or any unwelcome attention,” Grousbeck said, adding that he would refer to employees to see if the policy violations were more widespread than he thought.

Udoka’s suspension comes because the N.B.A. is grappling with workplace conduct in Phoenix. Last week, the league said an investigation had found a yearslong pattern of inappropriate behavior by Robert Sarver, the bulk owner of the Suns and the W.N.B.A.’s Mercury. N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sarver $10 million and suspended him for a 12 months. But amid backlash concerning the perceived leniency of the punishment, Sarver announced Wednesday that he planned to sell each teams.

Vague reports about Udoka’s situation emerged late Wednesday. Since then, many individuals on social media have posted the names and pictures of ladies who work for the Celtics, commenting about their bodies and other features of their appearances as they speculated whether the ladies had been involved with Udoka.

“We have now numerous talented women in our organization, and I assumed yesterday was really hard on them,” Stevens said, adding: “I do think that we, as a corporation, have a responsibility to make sure that we’re there to support them now.”

Grousbeck said he was troubled that several team employees had been “dragged into the general public eye unwillingly and inappropriately.”

What we consider before using anonymous sources. Do the sources know the data? What’s their motivation for telling us? Have they proved reliable up to now? Can we corroborate the data? Even with these questions satisfied, The Times uses anonymous sources as a final resort. The reporter and at the very least one editor know the identity of the source.

On Friday, the Celtics team reporter, Amanda Pflugrad, wrote in a post on Twitter that the past few days had been “heartbreaking.”

“Seeing uninvolved people’s names thrown around within the media, including mine, with such carelessness is disgusting,” she said. “It is a step backwards for ladies in sports who’ve worked hard to prove themselves in an industry they should be in.”

Team officials learned in the course of the summer “that there was a situation,” Grousbeck said, which led them to retain a law firm to analyze Udoka’s conduct. The law firm relayed its findings to the team on Wednesday, Grousbeck said.

“The investigation had some twists and turns and took a while to develop all of the facts,” he said.

Grousbeck consulted with a bunch of team officials and sought input from outside advisers before determining Udoka’s punishment, he said. Udoka’s suspension can be unpaid.

“This felt right, but there’s no clear guidelines for any of this,” Grousbeck said. “This is admittedly conscience and gut feel.”

He added that a choice on Udoka’s long-term future had not been made.

Grousbeck acknowledged that the Celtics players were “concerned” concerning the situation — “It’s not a welcome development,” he said — though he said he expected them to come back together and play hard this season.

Udoka has close relationships with most of the players. Stevens said it might be disingenuous to expect the beginning of coaching camp next week to be business as usual.

“I’m not going to disregard the undeniable fact that there are human emotions all over,” Stevens said.

The Celtics will enter the season as certainly one of the N.B.A.’s most talented teams. Last season, they got here inside two games of winning their first championship since 2008. Since then, their core — led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — has remained largely intact.

But now, there are latest challenges to navigate on the court: the unexpected absence of Udoka, the jarring adjustment of playing for a latest coach and preseason injury woes.

Danilo Gallinari, a veteran forward who signed with the Celtics this summer and figured to create space along with his perimeter shooting, could miss your complete season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while playing for Italy’s national team last month. And Robert Williams, the team’s starting center, underwent arthroscopic surgery this week to remove loose bodies and address swelling in his left knee. The team said he could return to basketball activities in eight to 12 weeks.

Boston will hold its media day Monday before starting training camp. The Celtics will open their season at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 18.

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