The Nets and head coach Steve Nash parted ways Tuesday, and Brooklyn has moved swiftly toward hiring suspended Celtics coach Ime Udoka as his replacement.
According to multiple NBA sources, the Celtics would allow Udoka to leave to coach another team. A league source said the Celtics are unlikely to seek compensation from the Nets if a deal is finalized. The Athletic reported that the Nets intend to hire Udoka.
Udoka led the Celtics to the NBA Finals last June during his first season as an NBA head coach, and he finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting. But in September, following a law firm’s lengthy investigation commissioned by team ownership, Udoka received a one-year suspension for violations of organizational policies.
League sources have said Udoka was punished for having an improper relationship with a subordinate team employee. A league source said the fact that the Celtics suspended Udoka for a year rather than firing him may have signaled to the rest of the league that the severity of his transgressions was not too much to overcome.
After working as a Spurs assistant under Gregg Popovich from 2012-19, Udoka, 45, spent one season as an assistant with the 76ers and one with the Nets. Brooklyn was considered a title contender in 2020-21 but lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bucks, the eventual champions.
Udoka is now close to rejoining a Nets squad that mostly has been in turmoil since he left. Brooklyn entered last season as championship favorites, but a sideshow emerged when star point guard Kyrie Irving, who was outspoken about refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, was unable to play in most home games because of New York’s vaccine mandate.
The Nets were swept by the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, and in the summer, superstar forward Kevin Durant requested a trade. Brooklyn ultimately kept Durant and hoped that a full training camp with him, Irving, and point guard Ben Simmons would help the team reach its potential. But the Nets are 2-5 and once again making headlines for off-court issues.
Last week, Irving posted a screenshot of the 2018 film, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake up Black America,” which has been described as antisemitic. After the NBA and Nets owner Joe Tsai publicly condemned Irving’s actions, Irving on Saturday said he would not “stand down,” and he expressed no remorse.
After the Nets defeated the Pacers Monday night, Nash was left to speak about Irving’s situation during his postgame news conference because Irving was not made available to the media. On Tuesday morning, Nash and the Nets agreed to part ways.
Now, it may soon be Udoka’s job to figure out how to make this all work in Brooklyn.
Although the timing is sudden, the move would clear some distractions for the Celtics. Udoka’s potential return — no matter how remote the possibility might have been — would no longer be looming. And the Celtics potentially would no longer be responsible for paying the remainder of Udoka’s salary.
Former Celtics assistant Joe Mazzulla, a finalist for Boston’s head coaching opening before Udoka was chosen in June 2021, is now interim coach, and he has received positive reviews from his players over the season’s first month. The Celtics are 4-2 and visit the Cavaliers Wednesday night.