Stephen A. Smith says Celtics’ struggles are ‘justice’ for Udoka’s suspension


“Maybe it’s because you have the coach you shouldn’t have.”

Stephen A. Smith has suggested that Joe Mazzulla should never have been the head coach of the Celtics. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

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The Celtics are struggling in the playoffs under first-year head coach Joe Mazzulla. They lost 3-0 to a Miami Heat team they beat in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.

Is this what they get for appointing a 34-year-old with no NBA head coaching experience to lead the team and airing Udoka’s baggage on the way out?

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith thinks so.

“It doesn’t look good for Mazzulla…but there’s one word on my mind that I want everyone to embrace,” Smith said on ESPN’s First Take. “Justice. This is justice for the Boston Celtics. I’m talking to (Celtics Governor) Wyc Grousebeck. I’m talking about the ownership of the Boston Celtics. I’m very adamant about that.

The Celtics suspended Udoka indefinitely for multiple violations of team policy after an alleged inappropriate relationship with a team employee. He and the team eventually went their separate ways while Mazzulla had his interim tag removed. The punishment was a judgment call for Grousebeck.

“It seemed fair, but there are no clear guidelines for any of this,” Grousebeck said at the time. “It’s a matter of conscience and instinct. … We collectively came to this and got there, but it wasn’t clear what to do, but it was clear that something substantial needed to be done, and it was.

The case was investigated by an independent law firm, which found that the power dynamic between Udoka and the employee was the main issue according to ESPN. He also used foul language before the relationship began, which contributed to his suspension according to the report.

Udoka has since been hired as the head coach of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, who said they felt comfortable hiring him because of the due diligence they conducted.

“Ime Udoka’s actions, his transgressions are not something we need to review,” Smith said. “He was wrong, (and) if he got fired, that was no problem. If he was kept, no problem. But for this organization to handle this situation in a classless way like it did it as far as I’m concerned, by holding a press conference where you didn’t say or do anything, but draw more attention to Ime Udoka and his transgressions.

“I’ve said it countless times on these airwaves and I’ll say it one last time,” Smith continued. “All of us in this company know a lot of people in the world of sports or sports teams who had stuff going on in the office. It was an HR thing. We know people who were fired for the same thing. We never heard a word. But now everyone knows what Ime Udoka did because of the way the Boston Celtics handled him.

The Celtics have not named the other party involved in the relationship, which they say was consensual. Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“And then we want to be sensitive to the other side, like we should be,” Smith said. “But nobody thought about the lack of sensitivity of Nia Long (who was in a relationship with Udoka at the time) and the attention it brought her and the way her name and child were raked, exhibited to the public. They didn’t think of it. They didn’t care.

Smith suggested the Celtics’ struggles under Mazzulla are because he was never meant to be the coach in the first place.

“And so, for me,” Smith said. “When I think about it and think about what’s happening now, maybe it’s because you have the coach you shouldn’t have. Because he should have been an assistant on the bench.

Smith added that he felt bad for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and that the organization’s leadership had put them in a difficult position.

“The Boston Celtics organization is a damn good organization,” Smith said. “But leadership from the top on this particular issue has stained this franchise and, as far as I’m concerned, that should go on for years. It’s justice, what’s happening to them right now. That’s right, I said it and I mean every damn syllable I said.


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