BOSTON — Al Horford lit up to discuss how DeMar DeRozan mastered the mid-range and the impact of Robert Williams III’s absence on how he defends.
Controversy mostly overshadowed another NBA shootaround otherwise at Auerbach Center ahead of Friday night’s meeting between the Celtics and Bulls otherwise. Horford wants Boston to focus on upcoming games instead of dwelling on its suspended head coach.
Horford acknowledged confusion and frustration that Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown discussed on Wednesday in Cleveland over reports that Ime Udoka would become the head coach of the Nets. Brooklyn hasn’t announced a hire as of Friday afternoon and GM Sean Marks denied the Nets made a decision, but the Celtics’ players braced for the finalization and uncertainty it’d cast over the team’s future. Smart assumed Udoka would return after fulfilling a one year suspension for unspecified violations of team policy.
“That’s something that’s there,” Horford said. “It’s a real thing, but at the end of the day, we have a job we have to do. We have a season in front of us, we’ve prepared for this and obviously if that ends up happening for Ime, we’d be happy for him, but at this point, we’ve got to look ahead. The games are coming on, things aren’t going to get easier and we’ve got a big challenge starting tonight against Chicago. Our group, we’re moving ahead. We have to focus.”
That’ll be easier said than done when Udoka takes the sideline for the Nets, which could happen this month ahead of the Celtics’ visit to Brooklyn on Dec. 4. If hired, Udoka will coach in Boston in 2023 against the team he led to the NBA Finals only months ago.
Smart wondered why, if Udoka couldn’t coach all season for the Celtics, could he assume the Nets’ head coaching job after only missing seven games in Boston?
“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?”
The answer hasn’t been available to Celtics players any more than fans or reporters. For whatever reason — either legal or for privacy concerns within the organization — Boston couldn’t disclose information about the suspension other than full confidence they made the right decision and confirming multiple violations of team policy found in a law firm investigation. Wyc Grousbeck said the Celtics would assess Udoka’s future at later date.
Adrian Wojnarowski soon reported Boston’s willingness to let Udoka pursue other opportunities. Udoka became the frontrunner to replace Steve Nash within hours of Nash’s firing. The Boston Globe reported Udoka couldn’t communicate with players while suspended.
It’s unclear why the Celtics didn’t fire Udoka if they wanted to separate from him over his violations, and while many will seek an answer for why Boston let him out of his contract to join the rival Nets, Horford stressed the Celtics can’t get caught up in that confusion. Smart, for what it’s worth, threw also his support behind Joe Mazzulla.
“We’ll see how that develops,” Horford said. “Right now, our focus is on our group, continuing to move forward. If that materializes for him, obviously we’ll be happy for him, but at this point we’ve already moved forward and we’re trying to focus on what we need to, and it’s Chicago tonight. We lost a tough one in overtime to Cleveland and we need to bounce back. That’s what’s on my mind.”