Optimism gushed from every corner of the Auerbach Center at the start of the summer. A Boston team coming off an NBA Finals appearance was returning its entire core and the front office took a big swing by adding Malcolm Brogdon via trade. Even in an offseason shortened by Boston’s deep playoff march, the new campaign seemed too far away.
It's been a bumpy road ever since. Kevin Durant trade rumors dominated the August doldrums and Jaylen Brown’s name was at the center of trade speculation. Danilo Gallinari, Boston’s other primary offseason acquisition, tore his ACL in international play and is expected to miss the entire 2022-23 season. Robert Williams suffered a setback with his surgically-repaired knee and is set to undergo a second procedure that will sideline him for the start of the new campaign.
The biggest bombshell landed Wednesday night with reports that Celtics coach Ime Udoka is facing a reported year-long suspension for violating team policy. The Athletic reported Udoka was having an improper relationship with a female staffer.
It throws the Celtics' coaching structure into disarray. Will Hardy, Udoka’s top assistant last season, left at the start of the summer to take over as head coach of the Utah Jazz.
Ben Sullivan, who coached Boston’s summer league entry, and Damon Stoudamire were Udoka’s other front-of-the-bench assistants. Joe Mazzulla, who interviewed for the Jazz opening, was expected to join them as lead assistants this season.
The Celtics organization is extremely high on Mazzulla, first bringing him in as an assistant with the Maine Red Claws in 2016, then bringing him back to the Boston bench in 2019. Mazzulla worked closely with former Big East rival Kemba Walker upon his arrival, and has made a strong impression with core members of the team gushing about him after he got the Jazz interview in June.
ESPN reported that Mazzulla will fill in for Udoka in an interim role.
The bottom line is that, for the second straight year, the Celtics will start the season with a new head coach on the sideline -- even if this one ends up being temporary. The question becomes whether the continuity throughout the rest of the organization is enough to keep the team moving in the right direction.
President of basketball operations Brad Stevens, still in the infancy of his post, again is tasked with keeping this team glued despite potential change at leadership posts.
Udoka was instrumental in pushing the Celtics to turn around their season last year. Even while navigating his first postseason, he pressed a lot of the right buttons to help the Celtics get to the Finals after a grueling grind through the East bracket.
The Celtics huddle for the start of training camp Tuesday. Five days out, it’s unclear who will be directing those workouts. Boston players will step in front of the microphones Monday at Media Day and, instead of focusing on a quest to get back to the Finals, the questions will linger on all that has come unglued over the past few weeks.
The Celtics overcame a whole bunch of early season adversity during last year’s march to the Finals. It appears they’ll have to navigate some more turbulence at ascent to do it again this year.