CLEVELAND — Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart expressed confusion over reports that suspended head coach Ime Udoka is moving to the Brooklyn Nets. Until reports surfaced on Tuesday, Smart believed Udoka would return to the Boston bench next year.
“From what we know and what we’ve been told, it was just a suspension. Little did we know he was leaving to coach someone else,” Smart said. “We figured they just suspended him for a year and he would be back. That’s why it’s confusing. We weren’t told too much about it.”
The Brooklyn Nets are close to a deal to hire Udoka to replace Steve Nash, The Athletic reported. Nash was fired this week after Brooklyn’s 2-5 (now 2-6) start. Jacque Vaughn will coach the Nets in the meantime, and general manager Sean Marks said he has “absolutely not” hired a replacement yet.
Udoka was previously an assistant coach on Nash’s staff in Brooklyn.
Six weeks ago, Udoka was suspended from Boston for the 2022-23 season for multiple violations of team policy related to an intimate relationship with a female organization employee. Joe Mazzulla has been promoted to replace Udoka for the season, although a final decision on his future has not yet been made.
If the Nets hire Udoka, he would return to an NBA bench just weeks into the new season.
Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said he played a role in bringing Udoka to Boston originally and is delighted he’s getting another chance so quickly.
“It would have been great if we found a way to have it with us, but I don’t think we did,” Brown said. “I’m just glad that a black head coach is getting back on his feet because I’ve seen situations where that might not have been the case.”
Udoka led the Celtics to the NBA Finals in his only season as head coach. He and Marks previously worked together as assistant coaches in San Antonio before Marks moved to the front office.
The news that Udoka is traveling to Brooklyn this week shocked Smart.
“I think a lot of people were just like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ Because they obviously suspended him for violating a team rule. And it’s like, ‘OK, now it obviously looks like more than one hang. But he can still train. So what exactly was the team rule and how big was it to the point where they felt like they had to suspend him and then suddenly say, “You’re gone” and allow him to coach somewhere else?
“I think that’s the confusing part because nobody on either side knows and there’s not much for people on either side to talk about and say. It’s just a difficult situation for everyone involved.”
Smart said asking questions of Celtics president Brad Stevens, his former head coach, wouldn’t help because nobody can divulge a lot of information.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to get a straight answer as to what’s really going on because there’s only so much you can say and know what you know,” Smart said. “You can ask, but I don’t think it will change anything or help anything. I think asking is just to express how you’re feeling, whatever you’re feeling, from your chest. But it really is. I don’t think it will change or affect the outcome. You have made your decision.”
Stevens attended the Celtics’ shootout before their game against the Cavaliers on Wednesday, but he did not speak to reporters.
“For me, our boys are the most important thing,” Mazzulla said during a pre-game press conference. “I care how they process things, I care what they go through. I hope they know that we can always talk about anything. I have had many conversations with them about different things.
“But the most important thing for me is that they feel like they can just be heard and talk to me. We try to do that consistently. I hope they feel that way.”
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum declined to speak about the reports until Udoka’s hiring becomes official. But Tatum said he was fully aware Udoka could leave to coach another team.
Brown will continue to support Udoka no matter where he lands.
“I would have liked to have had him here because Ime is a good guy. I think so,” Brown said. “It’s unfortunate just to see where he was and everyone was concerned if he would get another chance. To hear he might have another opportunity sucks that she’s not here but I’m glad he can get back on his feet.”
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(Photo by Ime Udoka and Marcus Smart: Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)