As the Nets continue to deal with the controversy surrounding Kyrie Irving’s promotion of a film and book that espouse antisemitic views, they have chosen not to invite more scrutiny with their head coaching choice, declining to hire suspended Celtics coach Ime Udoka.
The Nets announced Wednesday that interim head coach Jacque Vaughn has been named to the position full time in place of Steve Nash, who was fired last week.
Udoka is serving a one-year suspension for violations of Celtics organizational policies. According to league sources, he was found to have engaged in a relationship with a subordinate team employee.
But the Nets appeared to be on the verge of overlooking Udoka’s situation. Within hours of firing Nash, reports emerged that they intended to hire Udoka as his replacement. League sources said the Celtics granted Brooklyn permission to hire Udoka and did not intend to seek compensation in return. As recently as Friday, ESPN reported that the Nets were in the “final stages” of vetting Udoka.
During this time, though, the controversy surrounding Irving has escalated, darkening the cloud over the franchise. After Irving twice declined to apologize for posting a link to the antisemitic film on his social media accounts and to state that he is not antisemitic, he received a five-game suspension last Thursday.
Later that night, Irving issued an apology on his Instagram account, but the Nets have said he must fulfill several other requirements before being cleared to return, including completing sensitivity and antisemitism training, meeting with Jewish leaders, and making a $500,000 donation to anti-hate causes.
As the scrutiny of Irving intensified in recent days, Nets owner Joe Tsai reportedly was urged to reconsider Udoka, who was a Nets assistant in 2020-21 before being hired to guide the Celtics. Udoka led the Celtics to the NBA Finals last year in his first season as a head coach and was prepared to return this year with the Celtics considered favorites to win the championship.
But after a law firm’s investigation, commissioned by team ownership, found the violations, Udoka, in September, received a one-year unpaid suspension from the Celtics.
When news of Udoka’s impending hiring by the Nets broke last week, several Celtics players voiced their frustration that he would be leaving to join a rival just two weeks into the season. Now that will not be happening.
The Nets are just 5-7, and Irving’s future with the team is unclear, so their championship aspirations have been severely dented.
Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla, meanwhile, has guided the Celtics to an 8-3 start. He said he does not expect Udoka’s situation to become a distraction.
“I just have a job to do,” Mazzulla said. “Just focus on that. The guys are bought in. They trust me for the position that I’m in. And I just can’t take that trust for granted. I’ve just got to do my job, whatever we’ve got to do to win. And it will figure itself out.”
Kornet returns after birth of daughter
Celtics center Luke Kornet returned for Wednesday’s game against the Pistons after leaving Saturday’s game against the Knicks because of the birth of his daughter.
Kornet said he was originally planning to join his family in Boston after the New York game anyway, but his wife contacted team security when she started going into labor just as the Knicks game was getting underway. Kornet left the bench just a few minutes into the first quarter, took a car service to Boston, and made it in time for the birth.
Pistons got a feel for playoff Garden
The Pistons are still a long way from becoming a playoff team, but last May, several players, including star point guard Cade Cunningham, center Isaiah Stewart, and guard Killian Hayes, joined coach Dwane Casey at one of the Celtics’ conference finals games against the Heat at TD Garden.
“It was great, because now Cade could see what that atmosphere was about,” Casey said Wednesday. “It was a great atmosphere in Boston, in the Garden. A lot of those guys had not been to a playoff game before, so we wanted to get that feeling ingrained in them. And it may be something that’s quirky or odd, but there’s something to that, where they feel that and see that.”