The Celtics were just days away from the start of training camp, and Will Hardy had already left to join the Utah Jazz as their new head coach. Most of the available coaches had enough pedigree that a single-season interim gig wasn’t on their list of priorities, and as such, Boston had to look internally, with Joe Mazzulla getting elevated to the head coaching position.
However, according to Keith Smith, who was speaking on a March 20 episode of The Celtics Collective Podcast, Mazzulla was likely Brad Stevens’ second choice coach had Hardy remained with the franchise throughout the summer.
“Let’s put it this way, had Will Hardy not gotten the jazz job, I think Will Hardy is the coach of the team right now,” Smith said. “Because I think he was brought in as Ime Udoka’s second guy. He was the next guy up. Then he left, then Udoka had his nonsense and ridiculousness and gets sent away. And then it’s alright, well, Damon Stoudamire, Is he gonna be with the team? What are we doing? He’s got one year or a couple of years, I guess, of college head coaching experience. Mazzulla has been around for a long time because people forget he was with Brad on his staff. So then it becomes, alright, let’s elevate Mazzulla.”
Mazzulla has been coming under increased scrutiny in recent weeks, as the Celtics have struggled since returning from the All-Star break, going 7-6 in their last 13 games.
Joe Mazzulla Called Out For ‘Baffling’ Decision
In a March 19 article by NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg, the Celtics analyst questioned Mazzulla’s decision not to play Derrick White during the fourth quarter of the team’s March 18 loss to the Utah Jazz.
“But White’s fourth-quarter DNP on Saturday night was downright baffling,” Forsberg wrote. “The Celtics were playing without three starters, including Smart, and couldn’t find any time for White? Yes, the Celtics needed size but White is one of the team’s best decision-makers and can often negate the size he gives up with his basketball IQ. He needs to be on the floor more regardless of matchups.”
With Marcus Smart missing from Boston’s rotation against Utah, many fans were perplexed at Mazzulla’s decision to sit one of the team’s most consistent players, especially when they were struggling to control the flow of the game.
Danny Ainge Has High Hopes For Joe Mazzulla
Before the Celtics tipped off against the Jazz, former President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge spoke with The Athletic’s Jay King, where he discussed what he saw from Mazzulla while he was an assistant coach under Brad Stevens.
“I just always liked Joe’s work ethic, his focus, his intelligence,” Ainge said. “I feel like Joe is one of those guys — one way that I’ve always measured greatness is how much a person can learn from mistakes they make. Joe’s going to learn from his mistakes, just like Will Hardy learns from his mistakes quickly. … The coaches that learn and move on, they become the legendary coaches. And I think both Joe and Will have a chance to be those.”
Mazzulla has recently signed a contract to officially become Boston’s head coach, so, despite the team’s current rough patch, it looks like he’s going to be around for a while, regardless of what happens between now and the end of the season.