It wasn’t expected to happen this quickly, just five-plus weeks after the upheaval in Boston, just seven games into the regular season. There is a need for Ime Udoka’s services.
Teams were keeping an eye on Udoka’s situation in Boston and whether any further information would be released regarding his suspension, but it was widely believed that no NBA team would touch him until at least next season because of the circumstances.
It’s been less than six weeks since the Celtics suspended Udoka following inappropriate behavior regarding a consensual relationship with a team employee, and yet the Brooklyn Nets are seriously considering hiring Udoka for their vacant coaching position.
The Nets parted ways with the beleaguered Steve Nash on Tuesday morning, likely a moment of relief for Nash, a kind man who went into a chaotic situation with zero coaching experience and was exposed for his lack of acumen against the game’s veteran coaches.
What’s more, he was completely outcoached by Udoka in last year’s playoff series, a Celtics sweep. It was after that series Nets officials began to regret passing up Udoka to hire Nash. Their focus on the suspended coach intensified in recent weeks.
But the organization must have received some type of indication that Udoka was ready to return to coaching to fire Nash so quickly, although his status was already shaky.
The Celtics, according to an NBA source, are willing to allow Udoka to coach for another team without compensation. That’s how much they’re ready to move on from this situation. Privately, they have been pleased with the progress of the franchise and the team under Joe Mazzulla’s leadership and are hoping to strip the interim tag in the coming months.
Udoka will not have to prove himself as a capable coach as much as he will as a capable leader of a franchise. The Celtics placed their faith in Udoka and he allowed his non-basketball desires to impact his judgment, so much so the organization wanted nothing to do with a possible return. The Celtics have shifted their focus to Mazzulla.
The Nets are a desperate franchise and have been since they relinquished three first-round picks and a swap — resulting in the drafting of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in Boston — to the Celtics for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry nine years ago. They don’t want to rebuild but will almost be forced to if their current roster continues its rapid decline.
Udoka came to Boston as a disciplinarian, an authoritative voice that commanded the players’ respect. After some difficult beginnings, it eventually worked. The players trusted Udoka. He was their mentor, big brother, and life coach until he failed them.
Can he go to Brooklyn with that same confidence, same voice, same swagger, even though he’s obviously flawed? Is five-plus weeks long enough to convince people — not only the Nets but their fans, women’s groups, and those who will have to work with him — that he’s a changed man? Can anyone complete their soul searching, emotional cleansing, and personal reflection in a little more than a month?
Does Udoka think he made a mistake? Or will he claim he was falsely accused and the details of his suspension were a misunderstanding?
Udoka’s suspension could have been a time that he improved himself, reflected on his journey, and remembered the principles that made him one of the more desired coaching candidates in the NBA.
But he’ll be back in five-plus weeks. Anything is possible, conceivably. Udoka may have spent the past 40 days since his official suspension in complete isolation and therapy, working feverishly to rectify his issues, realizing the impact of his actions and the consequences not only for himself but for the Celtics franchise.
Or he could have been hanging at home, collecting 50 percent of his original salary, keeping tabs on potential coaching opportunities, knowing there will be teams desperate enough and prepared to accept the scrutiny that will come with pursuing a coach who lost control of his personal life and behaved inappropriately in a relationship with a coworker.
The suitors were waiting. And this will be a second opportunity to prove himself. As for the Celtics, they were ready to move on, too scarred by his actions, too delighted with his replacement and the energy he brings to an organization that needed uplifting.
So they didn’t need any return for the transition. They could have demanded draft picks or even financial compensation, but Udoka’s salary will be off their books and the franchise can likely reward Mazzulla with a contract if the season continues to ascend.
The Udoka experiment in Brooklyn may work. He’s proven to be an exceptional coach, but if he enters this situation as the same man as the one who left Boston, then he really didn’t learn from his banishment.
The Celtics could have used, but really didn’t need, draft picks as much as they wanted this situation and the controversy to dissipate. The questions will remain. What exactly happened? Could Udoka have been retained? Were there any other parties involved? But his departure for a division rival may actually benefit the Celtics immediately.
A cloud will be lifted, and the franchise can move forward with its new leader.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.