Celtics Mailbag: Pressure on Leaders With Ime Udoka Mess

Celtics potential leaders, inculding Marcus Smart and Al Horford

Getty Celtics potential leaders, inculding Marcus Smart and Al Horford

Welcome to the latest installment of Heavy Sports’ Celtics mailbag.

Insider Steve Bulpett will answer your questions — those pertaining to current league issues and even some off-beat perspective and opinion from his 37 years covering the NBA. (Want to know what former league city he misses most? Want to know about the Celtics’ first ever trip to Sacramento?)

We’ll try to tackle it all here in the Heavy mailbag.

Leave your questions in the comments section below or email them to sean.deveney@heavy.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Leadership & Payment After Ime Udoka

What Celtics player is going to have to be more of a leader this year with all the Ime Udoka stuff? It seemed like none of the players really knew what was happening, is that going to leave them mad at the organization?

Mark P.


I think Malcolm Brogdon has a lot of leadership qualities, but, being a newcomer, he can probably help most by example, showing how a veteran of some accomplishment is willing to accept a supporting role.

To answer your question more directly, the two players I believe most need to step up are Al Horford and Jayson Tatum. By all accounts, both are already leaders, but taking it up a notch in different ways will be key. Players say they already get a lot from Horford’s wisdom, and he can have an even greater effect by being more vocal and even demonstrative. (We saw what happened when he gave his famous nod and “OK, OK” to Giannis in the playoffs.)

Tatum can lead to a better degree if he 1. lets go of some of the referee debate and 2. is quicker with the ball movement to facilitate better offensive motion. In both cases, he’d be setting a really good example for the rest of the club — something that has even more impact because of Tatum’s status.

While it’s certainly an epidemic around the league, complaining to the refs is a bad look and has taken the Celtics out of their game at times. Moving on to the next play shows a professionalism and businesslike approach that keeps your team in the right place and can even be sort of a flex on the opponent.

As for No. 2, I’ve been writing for years that the ball needs to be in Tatum’s hands more in scoring positions and for less time and fewer dribbles on other occasions. It’s contagious in a good way when your best player is giving up the rock and cutting.


Do the Celtics have to pay Ime Udoka when he is suspended? They are in the luxury tax, would that keep them from hiring another coach?

Keith S.


Reports are that Udoka and the Celtics have reached some type of settlement with regard to his salary this season, but no doubt the suspension will cost him some dough.

Regarding your second question, coaches’ salaries are not part of the salary cap and, thus, have no effect on the luxury tax. The only way it could interfere is if the Celts simply want to save some money, which isn’t the case at all. The club is currently looking at adding a coach, and upper management certainly isn’t going to be worrying about relatively small money when it’s trying to win a championship.

Joe Mazzulla, the Coach, & Robert Williams Injury

Is Joe Mazzulla legit? He has never been a coach. Are they just waiting to hire someone during the season?

Todd O.

Worcester, Mass.

It’s clear the Celtics believe he’s their guy; otherwise they would have elevated someone else or gone outside the organization for a hire. And if they were looking to make a change mid-stream, Brad Stevens could have stepped in for an interim run.

The Celts do, indeed, think highly of Mazzulla’s hoop acumen and the relationships he’s built with the players as an assistant coach. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s comfortable in the role right out of the gate or if it takes some time for him to find his rhythm as the lead guy. Remember, Ime Udoka needed a while to find his stride in the job and put his personal stamp on things.

It is not a big surprise that Robert Williams is hurt but why aren’t they trying to get someone who has been proven in the NBA? Like Dwight Howard? There are a ton of guys with experience out there. They have big contracts for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and Al Horford, Marcus Smart, all those guys. Why would they be cheap with the guys at the end of the roster?

Bill G.

New York

Since you’ve written, the Celts have added Blake Griffin on a one-year guaranteed deal, but I think your question is still valid. I thought the club would be looking for more of a defensive presence at the rim. And while Griffin can still bring energy and offers some interesting options on offense, it’s the other end of the floor that concerns me with him. The Celtics’ defensive scheme shouldn’t leave individuals on an island much, but in his limited postseason time for the Nets a few months ago, Griffin was hunted by the C’s when they had the ball.

If they were looking to add someone bigger, Howard would probably be my choice. But perhaps Brad Stevens is comfortable with what they have or wants to get a better look at those people in reserve. But waiting runs the risk of the guy they want not being there if they eventually decide they need someone else.

Maybe if you’re healthy in the playoffs, a Dwight Howard doesn’t see the floor much. But I think you want extra help in the regular season when you’re trying to manage the minutes of Rob Williams and an older Al Horford to make as sure as possible that they’re right for the games that come after the first 82.

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