Ex-Celtics Coach Doc Rivers Knocks Joe Mazzulla Critics: ‘It Was Never Joe’

Joe Mazzulla, Celtics coach. Boston defeated Doc Rivers and the Sixers on Sunday.

Getty Joe Mazzulla, Celtics coach. Boston defeated Doc Rivers and the Sixers on Sunday.

BOSTON — Under the circumstances of NBA Life 2023, the question wasn’t harsh or unexpected. In the moments after Philadelphia‘s 112-88 Game 7 loss to the Celtics, it was one of the more matter-of-fact queries when Doc Rivers sat on the podium Sunday night.

“Hey, Doc, are you planning to be coach of the team next year?”

Rivers didn’t take offense — not even with a .653 winning percentage in Philly, a 54-win season, a first-round sweep of Brooklyn and going the distance with the No. 2 seed on his resume.

“Yeah,” he said. “I think I got two years left, so …”

Later in the session, he said, “I get it. You know, James (Harden), Joel (Embiid), me … I know we’ve got to point somewhere, right?” and, “No one’s safe in our business, and I get that.”

Rivers may be particularly unsafe, and he knows it. He may also choose to abdicate the Sixer throne.

Success and security are fleeting. Rivers knows how quickly the narrative can veer. Last Thursday in Philly with his club ahead, 3-2, in the series, he was the veteran leader out-coaching Celtic rookie mentor Joe Mazzulla, who was getting pilloried by Celtic followers.

Doc Rivers on Mazzulla: ‘Joe Was Dumb 2 Weeks Ago’

After finishing his press obligation, Rivers walked down the hallway back to the visiting coach’s room, an intermediate stop on the way to the offseason and uncertainty.

“Joe was dumb two weeks ago,” Rivers said to Heavy Sports with all due sarcasm. “I told you that. Now he’s in the conference finals. Look, Joe’s doing a terrific job. When we were making shots and playing well, that wasn’t on Joe. It was never Joe. It’s always that you’ve got to execute and you’ve got to play well, and it’s a make-miss league. I don’t think there was an issue on either side. One team beat the other team. That’s what happens.

“I thought Joe did a great job, a great job.”

So often, however, that isn’t enough.

“Just look at the last two weeks,” referencing the firings of Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer and Phoenix’s Monty Williams. “That’s all you have to do. I mean, Bud has a .693 winning percentage and won a title two years ago, and he’s unemployed. Monty, to me, changed their entire franchise. Forget the coaching part. Monty changed their complete franchise. That franchise was a laughingstock, and because they get blown out … I guess he was supposed to, I don’t know. I don’t know what he was supposed to do. They made a trade which I think will be a good trade in the long run, but probably not in the short run, and Monty got blamed for that.

“But when I talk to coaches — young coaches — in the summer, I tell them one thing: we sign up for it, and it’s part of it. It’s the worst part of our jobs, but it’s part of our jobs, and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s always easier to replace one.”

Rivers Knows the Business

Rivers knows the routine. He was fired by Orlando in 2004, chose to leave the Celtics when they badly wanted him to stay in 2013, and left the Clippers in 2020 by, ahem, “mutual decision.”

He was fired more often by media and talk show callers during those stays.

“A hundred times,” he told Heavy. “Listen, as a coach, all you can do is what you can do. The Celtics won, and Joe’s doing a hell of a job; I’m just going to say that.”

Rivers will once again do a hell of a job. It just remains to be seen whether that’s in Philadelphia or (insert NBA team here).


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