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Who will replace Celtics’ Ime Udoka if suspended? Joe Mazzulla among top candidates for interim head coach

Joe Mazzulla was promoted to a top assistant role with the Celtics this offseason and was a finalist for the Jazz head coaching job over the summer.

Celtics assistant coach Joe Mazzulla is considered a top candidate for the Celtics interim head coach a league source tells MassLive in the event Ime Udoka receives a suspension for a violation of organizational rules.

Mazzulla had been promoted to a top assistant role on Ime Udoka’s bench earlier this summer after lead assistant Will Hardy took the Utah Jazz head coaching job. Mazzulla was also a candidate for that position. Damon Stoudemire and Ben Sullivan are Udoka’s other top assistants and could be considered internal candidates for an interim position as well.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted Thursday morning that Mazzulla is the likely interim coach:

The 34-year-old Rhode Island native was a key contributor for West Virginia last decade during his collegiate playing career and has risen up the coaching ranks quickly in the NBA with Boston. He joined Brad Stevens’ staff back in 2019, leaving a head coaching job at Fairmont State to take the job. He was one of the few assistant coaches retained when Udoka was hired as a head coach in 2021.

“I talked to everybody in the organization when I got hired, players included, and he got glowing reviews. I didn’t know much about him going into it, but I take the players’ opinions at a high value, and he was a guy that was a consensus yes,” Udoka said of keeping Mazzulla on staff. “Somebody that they all worked with closely, (and) believed in and understood his upside. And so, once I met with him and Tony Dobbins, Evan, Brad, and some of the guys that we kept, I think it was pretty easy (in) conversations to see why.

Mazzulla served as head coach of the Celtics Summer League team in 2021 before his promotion this past offseason to one of Udoka’s top assistants.

“As all (of the) young guys (did), he coached Summer League and held everything together while I was gone to Tokyo,” Udoka said last season. “And so, the value and the relationship aspect, which was a big part of my coaching staff, he carried (that) over well. And so, it’s easy to see why, once I got to know him and (to) be around him. What I’ve encouraged our guys to do is (to) be more vocal, be more out there, and get their own voice, in the same way I was brought up in San Antonio. I think all guys have done that throughout the year; we’ve all learned each other; for the guys that I didn’t know as well. And obviously, with the Miami series, and that being his scout, you’ve seen him grow throughout the season, and now, he’s in the mix for some things, and hopefully, it goes well.”

Mazzulla has many fans inside the organization including All-Star forward Jayson Tatum who spoke about Mazzulla during the team’s run to the NBA Finals

“I love Joe,” Tatum said. “I think just being around him for the last, I think this is his third year, maybe second or third year, you can tell how passionate he is about the guys and his craft. And he’s gotten so much more knowledgeable, and more detailed, and more vocal and more comfortable in his role as a coach. You’ve seen the growth from his first year, and he’s helped me out tremendously as a player and a person. So, can’t say enough good things about Joe, and everybody appreciates what he brings to this team, and I’m glad that we have him.”

Udoka is expected to face a suspension for the start of the regular season, a league source confirmed to MassLive on Wednesday night. Shams Charania of the Athletic tweets that sources tell him “Celtics coach Ime Udoka had an improper, intimate and consensual relationship with a female member of the team staff... It’s been deemed a violation of the team’s code of conduct.”

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com was the first to report that Udoka faced a possible suspension from the team for what he termed an unspecific violation of organizational rules. A decision is expected to be made on the suspension by Friday per Wojnarowski.

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