Losing in the NBA Finals a year ago and making upgrades to their roster in the offseason, the Boston Celtics looked to be the team to beat in the NBA this season. However, they were unable to get back to the Finals this season, losing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat, which has resulted in many pointing the finger at rookie head coach Joe Mazzulla.
Taking over for Ime Udoka last summer, Mazzulla was thrown into the head coaching role in Boston with really no warning. Udoka’s dismissal from the Celtics due to a violation of team policies came as a shock to many, but Mazzulla handled himself extremely well and even coached in this year’s All-Star game.
The Celtics may have had high title aspirations, but their 34-year-old head coach should not be shouldering all the blame and former president of basketball operations Danny Ainge acknowledged this recently. Talking with Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe recently, Ainge opened up about believing in Mazzulla and that the Celtics may be better off with him over Udoka, who recently became the new head coach of the Houston Rockets.
“I work for another company now, but I’m trying to defend my friends,” Ainge old Shaughnessy. “I know Joe. I hired Joe four or five years ago to work in our G League. I still cheer for my friends. I don’t think the team quit on Joe. There was pretty good evidence they did not quit on the coach. I just think they weren’t playing well. The team’s overall confidence struggled after the comeback wins against Philly, which was really the highlight of the season.”
There has been a lot of discussion about the Celtics potentially moving on from Mazzulla due to the fact that they trailed the Heat 3-0 in the conference finals. Boston has since come out and defended their young head coach, as has Ainge despite the fact he is no longer with the organization.
“I understand something’s got to change, but knowing every one of the players like I do, it’s hard to identify,” Ainge continued. “You see Joe’s toughness and stubbornness. He’s a relentless worker. He has a passion to learn. Joe is a leader, and I think this was a difficult situation with the high expectations the team had coming in. I don’t think there’s anybody there that doesn’t believe that Joe is better than Ime as a coach.”
In his first season as the head coach of the Celtics during the 2021-22 season, Udoka led Boston to the NBA Finals with a 51-31 record. Under Mazzulla’s leadership this year, the Celtics came up a game short of the Finals, but they posted a 57-25 record, the franchise’s best record since the 2008-09 season.
Ainge’s comments on the Celtics head coach are certainly eye-opening, especially since he currently serves as an executive for the Utah Jazz. He knows exactly what kind of coach Mazzulla is given his time with the Celtics and the Jazz even considered hiring Mazzulla over Will Hardy, both of which were assistant coaches in Boston last offseason.
Being such a young head coach that was thrown into his current situation, there is really not much to worry about in Boston. Mazzulla has paid his dues as an assistant in this league and he would not have been given the head coaching position if the Celtics did not think he was capable of succeeding, especially after the team was just in the NBA Finals.
The support Mazzulla is receiving from Ainge once again proves that the Celtics will not be making a change at their head coaching position any time soon.
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