Joe Mazzulla may not have expected to be the head coach of the Boston Celtics at the start of the 2022-23 season. But it looks like he has a plan.
The 34-year-old assistant was named interim head coach last Friday following Ime Udoka’s season-long suspension for breaching organizational guidelines. It’s a tough place for Mazzulla, who is tasked with leading a team that enters the season as 2023 NBA Championship favorites but also continues to deal with the news of Udoka’s suspension.
In his first press conference as head coach Monday on Celtics Media Day, Mazzulla said he preaches patience with his players and others in the organization.
“The message is first to give people space and time,” Mazzulla said. “Not just for the players, but for everyone. It’s an unfortunate situation for everyone involved, so you have to give people the time and space to feel and the time and space to feel. So , that’s the key. You can’t rush anything.”
Those are wise words from Mazzulla, who is the NBA’s youngest head coach at 34. Although Mazzulla has no head coaching experience beyond the Division II level, he is Boston’s longest-serving assistant coach and is the only remnant of the previous one. training regime of Brad Stevens, who hired him in 2019.
“He had a concussion that day, I think,” Mazzulla joked when asked about Stevens’ strong endorsement of him at a Friday press conference.
So how will Mazzulla live up to Stevens’ high expectations and help the Celtics carry on last season’s momentum into this fall? The West Virginia product stressed that it wouldn’t deviate much from last year’s plan.
“The great thing about this organization, the players we have and the season we had last year is that we have a formula for what we know we need to do to improve every day to back to where we want to get there,” Mazzulla said. “So as much as we can focus on that, we’ll be in good shape.”
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That means fans can expect Boston to commit to defense, superior effort and consistent ball movement, which helped the C’s transform their 2021-22 season. Ever since those accents were instilled in last year’s squad, Mazzulla has focused on getting his players to succeed rather than impressing his own mark on the team.
“If I want the Celtics to succeed, if I want our players to succeed, I shouldn’t focus on what I’m trying to do,” Mazzulla added. “It’s just my job to focus on the execution perspective. How do we execute our collaboration? How do we maximize our roster?”
The spotlight will always be on Mazzulla as he makes important roster decisions, like who to lean on while Robert Williams is sidelined through injury. The first-time head coach, however, seems up for the challenge.
“We had the offseason to prepare for what we want to do this season,” Mazzulla said. “So there’s not much to change at all. I think it’s about learning from last season and then how do you improve?
“I’m going to build on the relationships I’ve built over the last three years here, especially with the players in the organization, and take it one day at a time.”