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Shrouding Ime Udoka’s suspension in mystery is unsustainable for Celtics

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BOSTON – If we learned anything from Friday’s press conference with Boston Celtics managing partner Wyc Grousbeck and head of basketball operations Brad Stevens is that the position regarding head coach Ime Udoka is one that is untenable and unsurpassable under the rug with a one-year suspension.

Amid reports of an “allegedly improper and consensual intimacy with a member of staff” and accusations of “unsolicited comments towards her”, Grosbeek understandably cited “reasons of privacy of the persons concerned” as a reason for not confirming these reports or detailing any material facts surrounding the matter. They called it “multiple violations” of team policies by Odoka.

Odoka put the Celtics in an impossible situation. They’ve enforced the suspension—one leaves open, by the way—but they can’t adequately explain why it’s suspended, so that cloud hangs over a team they entrust a 34-year-old inexperienced assistant with leadership in the feud.

You can’t hit the pause button in a favorite tournament and expect to pick up where you left off.

Joe Mazzola, who took charge of the Celtics within just three years of his NBA coaching career, may deliver on Boston’s championship promise, despite the added burden of a “one-of-a-kind” scandal. What’s Next? Will they reject Odoka after he has served his sentence? And what if you overwhelm Mazola?

These are the least of the franchises’ concerns, yet they threaten the common purpose of the entire organization. As Grosbeek said, the players are “very concerned about this. It’s an unwelcome development.”

Boston Celtics assistant Joe Mazzola (left), will serve as interim head coach during Amy Odoka's one-year suspension.  (Elsa/Getty Images)

Boston Celtics assistant Joe Mazzola (left) will serve as interim coach during Im Odoka’s one-year suspension. (Elsa/Getty Images)

“I think the guys on the team or the coaches or anyone else in the organization will come back on the field and everything is fine, that’s not the case,” Stevens said of the change of course a week before training camp. “This is a really difficult situation, but we will focus on moving forward to address everything we need to address to get everyone ready to go on Tuesday when we start a new season, and I think we will be, but I wouldn’t ignore the fact that there are human emotions involved.”

These feelings will permeate the entire organization. There is no solution that satisfies everyone. Odoka may resent the nature of his punishments, no matter how “acceptable” Grosbeek says. Players, coaches and front office staff may agree with him, lose his respect or fall somewhere in between. All of this pales in comparison to the message this sends to female franchisees.

The Celtics leadership expressed regret and anger at the “Twitter speculation and bull outbreak***” that “unintentionally and inappropriately dragged the Celtics into the public eye” in the hours between initial reports of Odoka’s excesses and the team’s covert response to he-she. Stevens almost cried as he recounted how “really hard” Thursday was for them. That’s on Udoka, and the Celtics’ inability to properly explain it publicly means the speculation, as awful as it is, won’t go away.

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It is naive to think that more details will not leak out. The Celtics couldn’t get through the night without details of the “comprehensive and impartial investigation” that ended Wednesday reaching the media. Friday’s press conference barely ended before the former NBA player turned commentator Matt Barnes has moved to Instagramapologizing for coming to Odoka’s defense and for the veiled reference to worse crimes.

Barnes said, “Last night, without knowing all the facts, I spoke out for Ime Udoka’s defense, and after I found out the facts after I spoke, I erased what I had posted, because the situation in Boston is deep, it’s messy, it’s a hundred times uglier than any of us thought.” …some things have happened that I can’t overlook, and I can’t undo.”

If Barnes knew of a more complete version already, how long before he made his way around the NBA and into the public domain? It’s hard to imagine what would have justified a year-long suspension and not Odoka’s shooting. It’s hard to take Grosbeek’s word that “this is well justified and appropriate”.

“It felt right,” he said, “48 hours after I found out how much it happened,” but there are no clear guidelines for any of this. It really is a conscience and a membrane and being here for 20 years. I am responsible for the decision, in the end, although I I received a lot of advice from partners like Brad and others. We collectively came up with this and got to it, but it wasn’t clear what to do. It was clear that there was something substantive to do, and it was.”

It may well be honest, but how are the public supposed to trust the Celtics team when they can’t even tell us if they think Udoka’s behavior constituted sexual harassment or caused harm to other employees?

“I don’t have the ability to gamble on the conclusions of our legal analysis,” Grosbeek said.

Even Odoka’s absence is shrouded in mystery. They will not disclose the terms of his suspension, nor have they made any decisions about the criteria he must meet to return. In one breath, Grosbeek said the suspension extends until June 30, 2023. In another, he said, “We won’t talk about the long-term, because nothing has been decided on…and we will make a decision at a later time about Ime’s future with us.”

It all gives the appearance that Celtics were shocked by the depth of detection in the investigation, the speed of the leaks, or both. They sure feel they are waiting for their time negotiating Odoka’s exit, because Media Day is Monday, and the cloud over Boston isn’t going away anytime soon.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have a tip? Email him to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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