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Ime Udoka And The Ripple Effect
Thoughts from a wild couple of days, Part II
A lot has happened in the NBA recently. I recapped some of the major stories here, and today I’m following up with some thoughts on Ime Udoka and the Bojan Bogdanović trade.
If you haven’t been following the Udoka story (and if you’re reading this, you probably have), let me set the scene for you real quick with a chronological drip-feed of information as it happened in real-time:
The engaged Udoka went from having committed an unspecified violation to a consensual affair to something potentially worse. We may or may not ever know the entirety of the sordid details (there are plenty of unsubstantiated rumors floating in the aether), but there is a lot to unpack here already.
I’ve seen many people online saying, “If it’s consensual, why is it anyone else’s business?” That’s an understandable knee-jerk reaction, but think of the relationship as a stone thrown in the Celtics’ tranquil pond.
The stone is undoubtedly affected, but the ripple effect is tremendous, as it would be in any regular company. We don’t know for sure the position of the woman in question, but it’s safe to say that Udoka most likely holds a higher rank than her — the only people above him in the org chart are general manager Brad Stevens and ownership. There are obvious problems associated with the power imbalance in work/romantic relationships (pressure to accept the relationship, pressure to continue it, etc.), but there are so many other issues, as well.
Peers of the woman may no longer feel comfortable approaching Ime or giving frank feedback on the woman to their own bosses, believing she has Udoka’s favoritism. Or, when the relationship ended, it’s possible that Udoka and/or the other party were no longer capable of working together professionally without some bias creeping in, subconsciously or not. It’s very, very difficult to separate personal matters from professional ones when things are going well, much less when they aren’t, and Ime reportedly made “unwanted comments” towards the woman that sparked this investigation.
It’s clear that, at the very least, the woman feels uncomfortable in the workplace now. Others may have had to work around this relationship or change their approach, creating a hostile environment in an already high-pressure, high-turnover field. Think of the half-jokes the remaining women in the organization will undoubtedly face about “sleeping their way to the top.”
So no, even if it was simply a relationship between two consenting adults for its entirety (which it increasingly sounds like it wasn’t), then it was not OK.
Most companies have strict HR disclosure policies around such relationships. The Celtics have a code of conduct prohibiting this behavior in the first place, and I’m unsure if there was a formal reporting process Udoka and the other party could have gone through.
But they didn’t, and because of how this situation has been reported, the remaining women in the organization have been subjected to scrutiny as the Twitter trolls converge on the Celtics’ website to analyze each headshot. Every woman is now under suspicion. It must be a horrible feeling to know that your career could be in jeopardy because the Internet might randomly decide you were the one Udoka was sleeping with. Even dispelled rumors of that nature can linger long after the fact.
The second- and third-order effects here are strong and punitive. Udoka’s relationship is not something that affects just him and his partner; it now affects (at least) all the other women in the organization.
As facts emerge, the punishment of a year’s suspension seems too light. The Celtics have admitted that they know more than is currently public, and Ime has said he won’t fight the suspension. How can Udoka return to this place in a year and resume working? In any standard, non-public company, he would have been fired without question. We see it all the time. Last week, we talked about Sarver being held to a double standard as an owner; his abhorrent behavior would’ve gotten him fired and perhaps charged with crimes multiple times over in any other situation.
But it’s worth remembering that athletes and coaches are allowed a lot more leeway than a rank-and-file worker at a normal company, as well. Udoka’s behavior (which I’m not comparing to Sarver’s, to be clear) would NEVER be allowed at a normal company, but when you’re fresh off a Finals appearance for an up-and-coming team obsessed with winning another title, well, why don’t you take a vacation and check back in when this is all blown over, yeah? And you don’t need to look far to see how few repercussions elite athletes face for their actions.
I don’t want to let the news breakers, Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania, off the hook, either. The two preeminent NBA infomongrels (new word; you like it?) are in an ever-escalating arms race with each other, a hostile duopoly with a constant battle for the almighty scoop that crossed the line of ethical journalism long ago.
Usually, when it’s breaking trades or free agency signings, it doesn’t feel so malignant. But the way they drip-dropped information over a few days greatly exacerbated the situation and caused much of the damage. Reporting broad strokes without fact-checking or finding out specifics has led to “rampant bullshit,” as Stevens aptly put it.
I’m not sure how anyone could moderate those two monsters at this point. Their workings have become fundamental underpinnings of the NBA-fan economy, the grease that keeps attention and interest flowing year-round. The NBA has no desire (or capability, realistically) to slow that down. Shams and Woj are essential to the way that NBA media, including me, does business. But that doesn’t mean the way they are doing things is right. What works for trades, draft picks, etc., does not work for things that have real-world consequences for innocent people.
The whole story is a mess and promises to get messier.
Bojan Bogdanović trade from Utah to Detroit
Bojan Bogdanović is a good player. He hasn’t shot worse than 38.7% from deep since 2016-2017 and hasn’t averaged fewer than 17 points per game since 2017-2018. He’s effective scoring off the dribble, spacing the floor, or even steamrolling smaller players in the post with a surprising bully-ball game. Defensively, he’s lost a step laterally but is still a strong, intelligent defender who can hold his own.
The Jazz are in complete demolition mode, having traded their two stars for massive amounts of picks and promising young players. Bojan’s trade was only a matter of time, and he figured to have a wealth of suitors from contending teams starving for high-level shooting paired with adequate defense. Miami, the Lakers, Dallas, and even Phoenix were reportedly hot on his trail.
So naturally, Jazz bossman Danny Ainge traded Bojan to the Detroit Pistons for, uh, Saben Lee and Kelly Olynyk and that’s it. That’s it?
This is one of the most bizarre trades I can remember. Bojan is an older (33) but effective player who is tailor-made to fit pretty much any team. He will be a godsend for Detroit’s offense, which desperately needed shooting and veteran leadership. Bogdanović should immediately slot in as a starting wing and give more breathing room to Cade Cunningham and rookie Jaden Ivey, Detroit’s pair of high-powered guards. I love the fit for the Pistons, and I especially love the price.
Bojan likely won’t be around when the Pistons are legitimately in the thick of the Easter playoff race. Still, it’s important to give burgeoning stars legitimate NBA-level running mates to help them develop good habits. Getting a genuinely good player at a position of need for a prospect teetering on the edge of his career (Lee) and one of Detroit’s many flawed big men (Olynyk) is some absolute plundering.
Utah saves money and gets substantially worse, increasing their odds of a high lottery pick. So that’s… technically something? But it’s very difficult for me to imagine that Bojan couldn’t have fetched anything of more value in the coming years, and it’s even stranger to me that none of the contenders were able or willing to beat Detroit’s paltry offer. Ainge supposedly didn’t want to take on long-term money, but why? Utah is against the tax line right now but projects to have plenty of cap room in the coming seasons.
Olynyk is a fine player, a solid-shooting big who can help stretch the floor for Collin Sexton. He’s on a tradeable contract, but there’s no way the Jazz would get as much for him as they should’ve gotten for Bojan. Lee is just 23, but he’s a small point guard who has struggled to carve out a role on a Pistons team that has been terrible for the last two years. After maximizing his returns on Gobert and Mitchell, Ainge apparently just ran out of steam.
Regardless, the Pistons are indicating that they, like Cleveland last year, are going to try to win basketball games earlier than outside observers would expect. Bojan will help with that, and even though the East is deeper than ever, there’s certainly a world where the Pistons can sneak into the last play-in spot. At the least, he should be good for the development of Detroit’s young guards, and that alone is worth the price of admission.