This offseason, the Boston Celtics were thrown for a loop when it came out that Ime Udoka had broken the organization’s code of conduct. He had a relationship with a fellow staff member, and in turn, the team suspended him for the entire season.
However, once the suspension became clear, the choice to be the new head coach was clear. According to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe, Celtics GM Brad Stevens was extremely confident in Joe Mazzulla’s ability to take over.
“But during those talks, the one part that was never in question was who would step in if it wasn’t going to be Ime,” Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said via Himmelsbach. “[Stevens] put his mark on that when he said, ‘I stand by this recommendation, and feel extremely strongly about Joe.’”
Mazzulla first joined the organization in 2016 as an assistant with the Maine Red Claws (now known as the Maine Celtics) and then re-joined in 2019 as an assistant coach under Brad Stevens. He was one of the only pieces to remain in place when Ime Udoka took over as head coach.
Lessons Learned From Past Coaches
At just 34 years old, Mazzulla is the youngest head coach in the NBA. Will Hardy, who was an assistant with the Celtics alongside Mazzulla last year, is the second-youngest and was Udoka’s top assistant.
For Sports Illustrated’s Daily Cover, Chris Mannix wrote about Mazzulla’s journey. The head coach said that he’s taken lessons from both Stevens and Udoka.
“This team has been coached by two great coaches. One [Stevens] was technical and very deliberate, another [Udoka] had great feel, [offered] player empowerment and so I got to see both. I think the team is going to need a version of everybody. And I think based on how the short term goes, you decide what a team needs in that moment.”
Mazzulla has a great group of players leading the way, as he took over a team that was two wins away from an NBA Championship the year prior.
Important to Learn on the Go
While Mazzulla may have taken a lot away from the time he spent under Sevens and Udoka, he also understands that he can’t predetermine his coaching style and decisions.
“To predetermine how you’re going to coach your team throughout a season, I don’t think is the right way to go about it because you never know what you’re going to go through, whether it’s good or bad,” Mazzulla said.
Just four games into his first season as the team’s interim head coach, Mazzulla is 3-1 and has the Celtics playing great on the offensive side of the ball. They hold the third-best offensive rating in the NBA (118.3).
That being said, they’ve struggled on the defensive side of the ball (25th in defensive rating at 117.0) and are fresh off of a tough loss to the Chicago Bulls.
It’s set to be Mazzulla’s first real adversity during his short tenure as Boston’s head coach, but with Stevens’ confidence, the lessons he’s learned, and his adaptive attitude, he seems ready for the challenge.