CANTON — Celtics media day offered no further insight as to why coach Ime Udoka was suspended for the season. Instead, the players expressed a mixture of confusion, support, apathy, and desire to move on.
It’s hard to determine how much the players are affected by the sudden ousting of their coach or whether they are angry at Udoka for his actions following a relationship with a Celtics staff member that led to a one-year ban.
What was stunning and telling is star players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each said they had not spoken with Udoka since his suspension and both expressed confusion when asked about the situation and why their coach is no longer there.
Brown wanted more clarity, as did Marcus Smart. The team has been asked to recover from the shock, understand the NBA is a business and a grown man’s game, and get ready for the season.
Basketball could be a pleasant diversion to the distractions of the past few days. The players love to talk hoop but it’s impossible to expect their concentration to shift to their jobs when their role model is no longer their role model but a disgraced man looking to fade into the darkness.
These 20-somethings and one 30-something are attempting to process their feelings, someone who preached discipline and commitment couldn’t carry those out himself. But the details are cloudy, the organization isn’t divulging much information to the players or public, and the NBA clock continues to tick. The 28 other teams who didn’t reach the NBA Finals have no sympathy for the Celtics.
They’ll have to manage their emotions, disappointment, and anger.
“Nobody died, so I didn’t lose anything,” Smart said when asked about losing a trusted friend and coach. “I still love Ime as a person, as a coach. It’s just something unfortunate that has happened to him. It doesn’t take away from what he did as a coach. It doesn’t take away [from] how he turned this team around, how he led this team to our first Finals appearance in a long time. It’s just unfortunate this is where we’re at.
“We still love him, but this is where we’re at.”
To say something unfortunate happened to Udoka, such as a boating accident or sudden illness, is misguided. Udoka is responsible for his fate, but it does indicate that there’s confusion about his actions. Do the players need to know all the uncomfortable details that led to Udoka’s suspension? No, but it appears they are seeking more information, more reason to understand the decision.
President of basketball operations Brad Stevens and majority governor Wyc Grousbeck need to again meet with the team and have more substantive conversations, and attempt to ease anxious minds.
“A lot of the information wasn’t being shared with us,” Brown said. “We can’t really comment on it. The best we could say is to move on, I guess. My initial reaction? I was a little confused but nobody has any of the information. There’s a lot of speculation going on, which makes it difficult for the guys who have been here.”
Brown mentioned the word “information” several times, as in lack of. It’s difficult for the players to move forward if they don’t know what they’re moving forward from. The organization can be guarded with the media and the public, but if possible, the players deserve better. They deserve transparency from their GM and owner because they certainly didn’t receive it from their coach.
“I’ll say it again,” Brown said. “I wish we had more details. From what we know, it’s hard to make a decision based upon whether it’s consensual or not in the workplace or whatever’s going on, which we’ve known has happened before in the workplace. But I guess there’s more to it than possibly [has been reported]. I don’t know. I don’t have all the details. It’s not being shared with me.
“I don’t really have a comment or a feeling on my emotions because I don’t have the details.”
If management wants this team to clear its head and chase a championship, they need more than just a quick session to break the bad news. The players will need constant attention, consistent conversations and more facts to completely develop an opinion and progress to the next step, which is playing for Joe Mazzulla.
The “just get over it and play ball” method is the worst plan of action.
“It’s unexpected,” Tatum said. “You come into this season and you feel a certain way and coming off last year you’re excited and trying to do all these things and it’s just a lot, if I’m being honest. Along with everybody, I’m still trying to process it all knowing we have practice [Tuesday]. I mean you read the [team] statement and you watch the press conference obviously [to get information]. Apparently there’s a lot of things they can’t speak about. I think I’m kind of in the same boat as [everybody else]. I don’t know if things were handled the right way or if they weren’t because I guess for a lot of reasons I don’t know all the details.
“It’s an unfortunate situation. Nobody expected this coming into the season, We were all kind of caught off guard by everything.”
When asked how he found out about the possible suspension, Tatum said, “[Expletive], on Twitter like everybody else.”
The players are having a hard time developing an opinion on Udoka because they don’t know exactly what he did. And they’re not going to condemn their former coach for something they lack the knowledge of. Management and ownership needs to ensure the players are comfortable with their decision so they can move forward as smoothly as possible and chase a title.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.