Joe Mazzulla grateful to have worked for returning Boston Celtics fired last year

Dec 8, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA;  Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla reacts to game
Dec 8, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla reacts to game / Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the Boston Celtics' January 13 matchup with the Houston Rockets, Joe Mazzulla was someone with no bones to pick, no grudge, and only gratitude toward the head coach who got scandalously suspended, and ultimately fired -- thrusting Mazzulla into a role he was not preparing for but has proven ready for --, Ime Udoka.

“You look at guys and coaches around the league who don’t get experiences working for multiple head coaches.," Mazzulla prefaced on January 12 (h/t NBC Sports Boston) before saying, "And so now that I can sit here today, I’m grateful that I got to work for him. I’m grateful that I got to see another way to do things because I was with Brad [Stevens] for three years, I think, and that was the only experience I had had in the NBA. So if I don’t get that opportunity to work for another coach, who’s worked for multiple coaches, who’s been on benches for championships, who’s been in San Antonio, Philly, other stops, then I don’t get to see how the league works and looking at it from a different perspective. 

"I’m grateful for that year because I got to see a different approach. And I kind of compare it to the year I played for [Coach John] Beilein and the couple years that I played for [Bob] Huggins [at West Virginia]. They were two really good coaches and, on the outside, they seemed to have very contrasting styles. But they’re similar in the way they coach the game or defense, how they look at defense, how they look at offense. So I kind of compare it to that, is where I got to see two really good coaches do it different ways and combine my philosophy with theirs and try to make something of my own.”

Joe Mazzulla has continued Ime Udoka's legacy of dominant Boston Celtics defense

It cannot be lost on either Mazzulla or Udoka, and from the sounds of it, it never has, that the defensive talent they inherited was a gift from Danny Ainge's genius drafting and front office maneuvering that led him to having high draft picks.

Under Brad Stevens, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Robert Williams III all grew into well-above replacement-level defenders, but it was under Udoka that it all came together. And Mazzulla has now reaped the benefits; even more so in 2023-24 with Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis in the lineup.

The Boston Celtics have had the ever elusive organizational alignment from the top down even through a scandal, and there has been no loss of momentum through losing two popular cornerstones in Smart and Udoka over the last year and a half.

Of course, Banner 18 is the only way to know all of it was definitively behind the Jays, Al Horford, Derrick White, and even Payton Pritchard, who all experienced the chaos. If Boston does reign supreme in June, there needs to be myriad media produced documenting it all for future generations of hoops lovers to understand.