The Toronto Raptors had the misfortune of seeing a dominant team rise up in their own division, as Ime Udoka had the Boston Celtics just a few wins away from a championship in his first season with the team. Udoka’s defense was among the league’s more stifling units.
After trading for Malcolm Brogdon while coming off a championship appearance, things seemed to be coming up aces for the second-year coach. Unfortunately for the Celtics, last night’s breaking news threatens to irreparably ruin his reputation and even push him close to resignation.
Udoka is facing a suspension that could be as long as the entire 2022-23 season. Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania have reported that the suspension stems from Udoka, who is engaged to actress Nia Long, having an inappropriate workplace relationship with a colleague.
Wojnarowski reprinted that Joe Mazzulla is likely going to be named interim head coach after Udoka’s transgressions. In the same way that losing an All-Star player can derail a season, losing someone who turned a perennial runner-up into a champion will likely weigh on Boston’s season like an anchor.
A Raptors team with eyes on a championship prize could take advantage of this.
The Raptors could benefit from the Ime Udoka suspension.
This could go one of two ways. Option No. 1 is Boston continuing to march along and win at a similar clip with Mazzulla as the coach. Think of how Luke Walton continued to pile up wins with the Warriors during Steve Kerr’s extended absence. Given this star-laden roster and lack of huge flaws, that’s not an outrageous assumption.
Option No. 2, however, features the complete erosion of Boston’s contention hopes. With Mazzulla’s most significant stops before Boston being one year with the Maine Red Claws and the lofty powerhouse that is Division II Fairmont State, coaching Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown might prove difficult.
While the Celtics did get the No. 2 seed last year following a slow start, they only finished three games ahead of the No. 5-seed Raptors. In an Eastern Conference that saw Cleveland, Atlanta, and Brooklyn all make big strides in the right direction, losing a handful of Udoka-less games could be fatal.
The Raptors had some success against Boston earlier in the season, but Udoka’s second-half defense proved to be too much for Toronto to consistently overcome. Without the mastermind on the sideline, Toronto leapfrogging Boston in the standings went from a pipe dream to a possible (albeit unlikely) future.