In an age of all-or-nothing, fans wanted the Boston Celtics to fire head coach Joe Mazzulla for failing to lead the team to a championship in his rookie season. Forget about the extraordinary circumstances Mazzulla was put in last year and what he did despite the challenges. The expectations were to finish the 2021-22 season’s job and bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens didn’t agree with the vox populi. He stood by Mazzulla, and built the team Mazzulla wants, from players on the court to the coaching staff that has Mazzulla’s back. This 2023-24 season, if Joe Mazzulla is going to fail, he will fail on his terms.
Before the regular season begins, Mazzulla has put his fingerprints all over this training camp. The focus has been on building a team, but he’s also surrounding it with a community. Mazzulla is reestablishing the Celtics family and wants his team to get to know it before earning entrance into that family through the thread to connects the generations: an 18th banner.
Joe Mazzulla did everything right for the Boston Celtics this training camp as he prepared the team for the 2023-24 season
Let’s recap how Mazzulla ended up where he is now: after Ime Udoka was suspended for a year, Mazzulla was named interm head coach days before training camp with no pro experience. He led Boston to the best record in the league halfway through the season and eventually the interm title was removed. And Mazzulla was out-coached during the Eastern Conference Finals by Eric Spoelstra, losing to a less talented Miami Heat.
The last sentence suggested that Mazzulla was in over his head. There’s some truth to it, but it doesn’t take into consideration that the 2022-23 Celtics was Udoka’s team. Mazzulla was the replacement bus driver after Udoka was suspended.
Mazzulla has his own bus this season, and he’s taking his own route. With time to prepare, Mazzulla was able to fully install his system. That includes teaching it to the players new to the roster.
Mazzulla, at times, felt the Boston Celtics didn’t shoot enough threes. Now he has better 3-point shooters. For those who feel Mazzulla doesn’t emphasize defense enough, he coaching staff added assistants that are big proponents of defense. Of the new coaching additions, Sam Cassell headlines the updated staff that’s determined to prevent the defensive slippage that happened last season.
More importantly, Mazzulla surrounded himself with veteran coaches that he can learn from. That now includes Jeff Van Gundy, who was recently added as a senior consultant.
It takes a lot of humility to build the coaching staff Mazzulla did. But he values the knowledge he can gain from Cassell, Van Gundy, and Charles Lee. While some coaches would view them as threats, they can be the edge Mazzulla needs to get the Boston Celtics to their goal.
The mentoring extends to the court as well. Mazzulla invited former Celtics to training camp to be a part of the season as well. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown had the chance to be around Paul Pierce, who led Boston to Banner 17. Who better for the Jays to talk about what it takes to win it all than the 2008 Finals MVP?
Pierce then invited Rajon Rondo to practice. So Rondo came. He’s been at practice since last Friday. Other members from the 07-08 team have come through as well.
A lot of people who traveled the path these Celtics want to follow are back because Mazzulla wants them here. Like a village raising a child, the Celtics family can show this Celtics team the way to a championship.
And Mazzulla will lead the way.