Boston Celtics

  • The team-imposed, year-long suspension of head coach Ime Udoka has rocked the Celtics.

    Announced just days before the start of training camp, it seemed like more than enough to get the Celtics, who entered the summer with championship aspirations after coming just two wins shy of an NBA title last season, scrambling.

    But it was never enough to get president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, who had coached the Celtics for eight seasons prior to moving into a front office role, back on the floor as the head coach.

    That’s a job that will instead go to assistant coach turned interim head coach Joe Mazzulla, according to Stevens.

    “Joe’s the best choice to do that by a long shot,” Stevens said Friday. “So, as you go through this whole process, it all hits you. But I think that we have the best people in place to do that. And Joe is the best person to do that in our organization.”

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 23:  Head coach Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics reacts to a play during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on February 23, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 114-112. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

    LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 23: Head coach Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics reacts to a play during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • Celtics governor Wyc Grousbeck admitted that he did have a ‘brief’ conversation with Stevens about potentially returning to the bench as the team’s head coach, which is understandable given both Stevens’ familiarity with the roster and his 354-282 record as an NBA head coach.

    But Stevens made it clear to ownership that this will be Mazzulla’s opportunity, and for the full season barring something unforeseen, as Stevens clearly has no plans on returning to coaching this year.

    “Absolutely not,” Stevens said of returning to coaching at any point this season. “There’s a lot of factors in play of why I wouldn’t necessarily even want to do that. But I think that, I do think that and and I and I’ve told Joe this, like, I’m going to be there for him without stepping on his toes.

    “But he doesn’t need much [help]. I believe in that strongly. Hopefully I can help help him with any questions he has as he goes through it. But sometimes you just need somebody that’s been there next to you to be able to go in and let your shoulders down and talk about what you’re going through. And hopefully I can be that for him.”

  • CANTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 30: Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens answers questions during an interview on Celtics Media Day at High Output Studios on September 30, 2019 in Canton, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    CANTON, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 30: Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens answers questions during an interview on Celtics Media Day at High Output Studios on September 30, 2019. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

  • Given the keys to the kingdom on an interim basis, the 34-year-old Mazzulla will be tied with ex-Celtics assistant and current Jazz head coach Will Hardy for the title of youngest coach in the NBA.

    And while he has the full support of the Celtics’ roster and front office as he takes over for this undoubtedly gigantic challenge, he’s not a man without his own troubled past.

    Arrested for domestic battery in 2009, Stevens was asked about Mazzulla’s past on Friday, and whether or not he was comfortable enough with that vetting process given what’s transpired with Udoka.

    “When we were considering hiring him as an assistant, I vetted that and the incidents when he was in college really thoroughly,” Stevens offered. “And I will tell you this: I believe strongly in Joe’s substantiveness, and this is a person I believe strongly. And he’ll tell you he’s been very open with me about how those moments have impacted him in every which way, and you can see it in the way he carries himself. You could see that for a long time.

    “We’ve had years to get to know him. He’s been working with us for three years. And you probably have seen articles that were written around that time that I’m sure that I read three years ago before I hired him as an assistant. But I believe strongly that that probably shaped him into who he is today in a really, really good way. But he’ll be the first to tell you he’s 110% accountable for that. And I’ll be the first to tell you that I believe in him.”

    Mazzulla, who worked with the Maine Red Claws (now the Maine Celtics) prior to leaving for a college gig, takes over with 60 games of head coaching experience in his career, with a 43-17 record at Fairmont State University from 2017 through 2019.

  • And while the Celtics have an obvious belief in Mazzulla, it will be an all-hands-on-deck season for the entire C’s coaching staff given this jump into the fire of leading a championship contender.

    “He’s got really good help on his staff; I think Damon Stoudamire, Ben Sullivan, those two guys are are critical, in my opinion, to Tony Dobbins, Aaron Miles, DJ MacLeay. They’ve got a good staff, they’ve got a good group and on down the line and obviously Matt Reynolds, those are the assistants that are all there in addition to others,” Stevens said. “But they’re a really good group. They’re going to need to pull together and they’re going to need to really support each other.”

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 10:  Head coach Joe Mazzulla of the Boston Celtics talks to Carsen Edwards #4 during a game against the Denver Nuggets during the 2021 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on August 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Celtics defeated the Nuggets 107-82. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 10: Head coach Joe Mazzulla of the Boston Celtics talks to Carsen Edwards #4 during a game against the Denver Nuggets during the 2021 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on August 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • But to Stevens, there’s no doubt that it’s a staff that doesn’t need its leader of yesteryear to return.

    Not with Mazzulla ready and willing, anyway.

    “Joe is going to be in charge,” Stevens said. “It’s not easy timing for him or the rest of the staff, but he’s an exceptionally sharp and talented person. And I believe strongly in him and his ability to lead people [and] his ability to galvanize a room and get behind them.”