The Boston Celtics could have an interim head coach on the sidelines this upcoming NBA season, and everybody outdoors of the Northeast could also be questioning:
Precisely who’s Joe Mazzulla?
Within the wake of Celtics coach Ime Udoka being suspended for the entire 2022-23 season for having an intimate relationship with a feminine member of the franchise’s workers, Mazzulla has been elevated from assistant to interim head coach of the defending Japanese Convention champions.
The transfer continues a meteoric rise for Mazzulla inside basketball teaching circles. In three years, he has gone from teaching in Division II to the helm of a crew projected to have essentially the most wins within the NBA this season, in response to Caesars Sportsbook.
Mazzulla, 34, is the youngest head coach to take over a crew that reached the NBA Finals the prior season since Lawrence Frank in 2003-04, per ESPN Stats & Data analysis. (That 12 months, Frank took over midseason when the New Jersey Nets — who had made the Finals the prior two seasons — fired head coach Byron Scott.)
He’s additionally the youngest to be in that place to begin a season since late Celtics legend Bill Russell, who grew to become player-coach of the franchise in 1966-67 at 32 years outdated.
Mazzulla and Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy — who was Udoka’s lead assistant final season, earlier than being employed in the summertime by former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to switch Quin Snyder — are actually tied for the excellence of being the youngest head coach within the NBA.
The 2 of them, nevertheless, could not have totally different expectations coming into the season. Shortly after hiring Hardy, Ainge traded away Rudy Gobert after which Donovan Mitchell, sending the Jazz right into a full-on rebuild in consequence.
Mazzulla, in the meantime, takes over a championship contender coming off a magical run to the Finals — and does so with solely two years of head-coaching expertise (at a small faculty) beneath his belt.
Here is a take a look at the younger coach’s previous expertise, together with the duty forward of him this season:
Mazzulla’s street to the NBA
Mazzulla made his identify taking part in 145 video games for West Virginia from 2006 to 2011, first for John Beilein after which Bob Huggins.
He was arrested twice whereas at West Virginia. As soon as, in 2008, for underage consuming and aggravated assault, a case by which he pled responsible and paid a high quality, after which in 2009 for home battery after an incident at a bar, a case that was settled out of courtroom.
After faculty, Mazzulla spent 5 years as an assistant coach within the Division II ranks — with Glenville State from 2011 to 2013, and Fairmont State, situated roughly 20 miles southwest of Morgantown, West Virginia, from 2013 to 2016.
The Celtics had been excessive on Mazzulla — who’s from Warwick, Rhode Island — for a while. They initially introduced him into the NBA’s orbit in 2016, after they employed him as an assistant for the G League’s Maine Crimson Claws. Two years later, then-Celtics head coach Brad Stevens employed Mazzulla.
Following his one season within the G League, Mazzulla returned to Fairmont State as its head coach in 2017, going a mixed 43-17 throughout two seasons earlier than coming to the Celtics in 2019.
When Udoka got here aboard in June 2021, Mazzulla remained on the Celtics’ workers.
“He was a man that there was a consensus, sure,” Udoka mentioned the day earlier than Recreation 6 of the NBA Finals in June. “Anyone that [the players] all labored with intently, believed in and understood his upside.”
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Mazzulla was a finalist for the Jazz head-coaching job this summer season — a place that finally went to Hardy, Udoka’s prime assistant final season. (The Jazz wished Mazzulla to affix Hardy as an assistant, however the Celtics stored him in Boston.)
“I like Joe,” Jayson Tatum mentioned of Mazzulla earlier than Recreation 6 of the Finals. “You would inform how passionate [he is] in regards to the guys and his craft. He is gotten a lot extra educated, extra detailed, simply vocal. Extra snug in his position as a coach. You’ve got seen development from his first 12 months.”
What lies forward for Mazzulla and the Celtics?
It’s unattainable to understand how Mazzulla will method the job. However whereas folks will instantly take into consideration what Udoka’s suspension will imply from an in-game perspective, it’s behind the scenes, and within the locker room, the place his absence might be felt essentially the most.
From the second Udoka arrived in Boston final summer season, he made a degree of difficult the crew’s finest gamers, All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, to enhance. Udoka pushed the duo to grow to be higher playmakers and creators for others, and he wasn’t afraid to say publicly how he felt in regards to the crew’s play.
“It is a lack of psychological toughness to battle by means of these opposed occasions,” Udoka mentioned after Boston blew a 25-point lead to the New York Knicks in January. “A relaxing presence to sluggish it down and get us what we wish is absolutely what you want at that time. And typically all of us get caught up in it.”
Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck and president of basketball operations Brad Stevens handle the choice to droop Ime Udoka for the upcoming NBA season.
In the course of the Celtics’ sluggish begin, Udoka’s criticism was at occasions seen as a detriment. However Boston dramatically turned its season round in the course of the second half of 2021-22, ending the season 51-31, the very best file ever for a crew that was beneath .500 on the midway level. They grew to become the primary crew beneath .500 midway by means of the season to succeed in the Finals for the reason that Houston Rockets in 1981, in response to ESPN Stats & Data.
The mix of Udoka’s suspension and Hardy’s departure has left a void of expertise on Boston’s bench. Stevens spent a number of extremely profitable years within the position, however he has his arms full operating the crew’s entrance workplace. Maybe Boston will look so as to add a veteran assistant coach to offer some perception, as nicely.
However no matter what the Celtics select to do, it was only some weeks in the past that Boston was deemed the winner of the offseason by a plurality of NBA coaches, scouts and executives.
Now, the Celtics discover themselves beginning over on the eve of coaching camp. Not solely are they reeling from the sudden lack of Udoka, however in addition they noticed their prime free agent signing, Danilo Gallinari, tear an ACL while playing for Italy throughout a FIBA World Cup qualifying sport final month. In the meantime, beginning middle Robert Williams III underwent surgical procedure this week on the identical knee that prompted him hassle all through the 2022 playoffs.
Consequently, a crew that was considered as one of many clear favorites to advance to the NBA Finals only a few weeks in the past has seen its offseason thrown into absolute chaos mere days earlier than the beginning of coaching camp.