CLEVELAND — Celtics guard Marcus Smart said that when coach Ime Udoka was suspended for a year in September because of violations of organizational policies, he was given the impression that Udoka, who guided the team to the NBA Finals last June, would be back next season.
So he was surprised and disappointed Tuesday when he saw that Udoka, according to multiple reports, will soon be named Steve Nash’s replacement as head coach of the Nets.
“Obviously, we wish he was here,” Smart told the Globe Wednesday. “We have no control over that. It definitely sucks. I guess it was deemed that whatever happened was enough for him not to be the coach here, but I guess not enough for him [not] to be a coach anywhere else, obviously.”
According to league sources, Udoka was suspended because of an improper relationship with a subordinate team employee. He was replaced by interim coach Joe Mazzulla.
“His name got slandered and slaughtered and it was, ‘He’ll probably never coach again,’ ” Smart said. “And a couple of months later, now he’s possibly going to be the coach of one of our biggest rivals?
“It’s tough. It makes no sense. But we can’t control that. We have to control what we can, and I love the team here. I love the coaching staff. I love Joe.”
Smart is frustrated that the organization shared just sparse details about Udoka’s situation with the players. When they were told that Udoka would be suspended a year, they believed that timeline.
“It really doesn’t matter what we say [to the front office],” Smart said. “We can voice our opinion, but I’m sure it’s going to be, ‘Yeah, we hear you.’ And that’s it.
“I’m sure they know how certain people feel. But it is tough, because there’s only so much that they can say. It’s a tough spot for everybody. It just sucks all around.”
Forward Jaylen Brown said it would have been “awesome” if Udoka had been able to return to the Celtics next season, and that it “sucks” that he will not be back. But most of all, he’s pleased that Udoka will get another chance.
“I’m just happy to see a Black head coach end up back on his feet,” Brown said, “because I’ve seen situations where something like this might not have been the case.”
Udoka has been forbidden from communicating with the Celtics during his suspension, and Smart said that has been difficult because the players still consider him a friend. He said when he next speaks with Udoka, he’ll congratulate him.
“We obviously thought he’d be back, but obviously the team and organization felt a different way,” Smart said. “Unfortunately, that’s the business side of it and we have to deal with it.
“Now he’s possibly going to take a job right down the street from us and be coaching the same guys we were trying to beat to get to where we were last year.”
Smart stressed that his support of Udoka is not a slight on Mazzulla, the 34-year-old first-time head coach who has guided the Celtics to a 4-2 start.
“You can have more than one best friend,” he said. “That’s just kind of the relationship it is. We love Joe. We also love Ime, too. Joe understands that, and Joe loves him. But we’re definitely excited for Joe and proud of Joe and it’s not fair to Joe to have to keep hearing this either and go through what he’s going through.
“They’re both our brothers and we love them the same. Unfortunately, the circumstances called for some desperate measures and Joe has the coaching job, so that’s who we’re listening to and that’s who we’re rocking with. We still love Ime, but Joe is our coach.”
Before Wednesday night’s game against the Cavaliers, Mazzulla said he cares about how his team is processing the situation, and he wants to be a sounding board if one is needed.
“I care about what they’re going through,” he said. “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 be heard and they can talk to me.”
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