Reason #2 to fire Mazzulla: A young coach is not the right fit for the Celtics’ championship-level roster
Why it’s wrong: Age doesn’t matter. Cultural effect does.
Since Pat Riley did it in 1982, there have been a grand total of three first-year head coaches to win an NBA Championship: Steve Kerr in 2015, Tyronn Lue in 2016, and Nick Nurse in 2019. All those coaches have one thing in common: handed ludicrously stacked rosters with maybe the best player in the world on them.
Kerr had peak Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, and Lue got LeBron James—the second-greatest player ever—along with prime Kyrie Irving and one of the deepest supporting casts of the decade. Nurse’s roster was probably the least impressive, but he was still handed the ultimate hired gun in Kawhi Leonard, who may have just been the best player in the world that year.
Other than those three, every coach that has won a title in the last 41 years has been there for at least two years. It’s because of the NBA’s best-kept secret (mentioned in Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball as merely the secret, but I’m spilling the beans here, sorry Bill): winning a title is about culture, not basketball.
How did Isaiah Thomas’ Pistons teams stand up to Michael Jordan, beating him in Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals by 19 *wink wink*? Everyone on that team knew their role and embraced it. Their culture was airtight, and it wasn’t until Phil Jackson channeled Jordan’s ego—something that required years of trust—into a winning formula that the Bulls could conquer them.
Mazzulla has been around the organization for a number of years now, and building a winning culture takes serious time and patience. Because of Ime Udoka’s utter stupidity, Mazzulla was thrust into this role without the chance to build his own staff, without two top assistants, and without proper preparation time. Yet even with these hurdles, Mazzulla’s first Boston Celtics team won 57 games and came within 5 wins of a title.
Championship teams are built on continuity, not some novel, genius strategy that nobody else has thought of. To throw an entire year of continuity out of the window would be a massive mistake.