CLEVELAND — Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart expressed confusion over reports that suspended head coach Ime Udoka is headed to the Brooklyn Nets. Until the reports surfaced Tuesday, Smart believed Udoka would return to Boston’s bench next year.
“From what we know and were told, it was just a suspension. We didn’t know he was leaving to go coach somebody else,” Smart said. “We thought they just suspended him for the year and he’d be back. That’s why it’s confusing. We weren’t told too much about it.”
The Brooklyn Nets are nearing a deal to hire Udoka to replace Steve Nash, The Athletic reported. Nash was fired this week following Brooklyn’s 2-5 (now 2-6) start. Jacque Vaughn will coach the Nets in the interim 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 by Boston for the 2022-23 season over multiple violations of team policies related to an intimate relationship with a female staff member in the organization. Joe Mazzulla was promoted to replace Udoka for this season, although a permanent decision on his future has not been determined.
If the Nets hire Udoka, he would return to an NBA bench just weeks into the start of the new season.
Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said he played a role in initially bringing Udoka to Boston and was pleased to see him get another chance so quickly.
“It would’ve been awesome if we could’ve figured out a way for it to be with us, but I guess that wasn’t the case,” Brown said. “I’m just happy to see a Black head coach end up back on his feet because I’ve seen situations where something like this 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 pivoted to the front office.
The news of Udoka heading to Brooklyn this week shocked Smart.
“I think it left a lot of people just like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ Because obviously, they suspended him for breaking a team rule. And it’s like, ‘OK, now obviously it looks like more than a suspension. But he’s able to still coach. So what exactly was the team rule and how big was it to the point they felt they needed to suspend him and then all of a sudden say, ‘You’re gone’ and allow him to go coach somewhere else?
“I think that’s the confusing part because nobody knows on both sides and there’s not much that people on both sides can say and talk about. It’s just a tough situation for every party involved.”
Smart said asking questions to Celtics president Brad Stevens, his former head coach, wouldn’t help because no one can divulge much information.
“I don’t think you’ll ever get a straight answer about what’s really going on because there’s only so much they can say and that they know,” Smart said. “You can ask, but I don’t think it’s going to change anything, help anything. I think asking is just to express how you feel, whatever you feel, off your chest. But really that’s it. I don’t think it’ll change or affect any outcome. They made their decision.”
Stevens attended the Celtics shootaround Wednesday before their game against the Cavaliers, but he did not address reporters.
“I care about our guys the most,” Mazzulla said during a pregame news conference. “I care about how they’re processing things, I care about what they’re going through. I hope that they know we can always talk about anything. I’ve had plenty of conversations with them about multiple things.
“But the most important thing for me is that they feel that they can just be heard and they can talk to me. We try to do that on a consistent basis. I hope they feel that way.”
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum did not want to talk 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 regardless of where he lands.
“I would’ve liked him to be here because Ime is a good guy. I believe that,” Brown said. “It’s unfortunate just to see where he was at and everybody was worried if he’d be able to get another opportunity. So to hear that he potentially has another opportunity, it sucks that it’s not here, but I’m glad that he’s able to land back on his feet.”
(Photo of Ime Udoka and Marcus Smart: Jim Davis / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)