Joe Mazzulla will be back as head coach of the Boston Celtics next season, and it’s a sign of the team’s recent liveliness that it had to be said.
In an interview with reporters on Thursday, Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens confirmed that the team’s interim-turned-permanent head coach will return next season following the exit of the team’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.
When asked if Mazzulla was the best man for the job, Stevens affirmed that he was and praised his efforts after being propelled to the top job following the suspension of former head coach Ime Udoka:
I think he did a very good job with this group. Everyone is going to overreact to the best players and coaches after every game. It’s always like that. We know that, so we have to be able to judge things as a whole. He’s a terrific leader. He will only get better at anything he can learn this year as he is constantly trying to learn. He is responsible. These leadership qualities are hard to come by. I know it’s easy to talk about it, but when you can show it all through the expectations and the microscope it was under, it’s hard to do.
Was he perfect? Would he like to have a few moments back? Every coach would do it, even the coaches nobody talks about would do it. All of us who have coached know how difficult it is. At the same time, our players, our staff, everyone around him believes in him and we have to do our best to support him in the future.
The question now is how the Celtics will complete their coaching staff under Mazzulla.
It was reported Wednesday that Udoka had hired Celtics assistant coaches Ben Sullivan, Aaron Miles and Mike Moser. The team also lost key assistant Damon Stoudamire in March when he became head coach of Georgia Tech and reportedly never found a replacement for Will Hardy, who was hired as head coach of the Utah Jazz. last offseason.
“With at least one addition to the bench, and [Mazzulla] lead this charge, we’ll definitely be looking for someone who has a lot of NBA experience.”
Joe Mazzulla’s first season as Celtics head coach had its ups and downs
Mazzulla was an unexpected choice for the Celtics’ interim head coach given he wasn’t even Udoka’s top assistant and was coaching in Division II with Fairmont State as recently as 2019. Athletic reported on Thursday that several players and coaches consider Stoudamire the favorite for the interim job.
Under Mazzulla, the Celtics went 57-25 in the regular season, their best record since 2008-09, and entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Things were going pretty well, the Celtics announced in February that Mazzulla had been promoted to permanent. At the time, the team had the best record in the NBA at 42-17.
Behind the scenes, however, The Athletic reported that players feared the team had drifted away from its defense-first identity, to the point that stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown met with Mazzulla in early March to plead for the value defensively. Grant Williams back in the rotation.
Once they reached the playoffs, the Celtics looked solid overall in a six-game win over the Atlanta Hawks, but needed a seven-game comeback against the Philadelphia 76ers to reach the conference final.
The Celtics opened their third series down 3-0 and looking completely out of sorts after Game 3, but managed to come back and even the series before losing in a Game 7 blowout. most talented team in the series overall, but the Heat’s shooting and leadership put them at the top and their sixth NBA Finals since 2011.