Canton, Mass. – After Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka was suspended for the entire 2022-23 NBA season for violating team rules, interim coach Joe Mazzula said Monday that his goal is to continue to build on his strengths. The Celtics were on their way to the NBA Finals for the first time in 12 years last season.
“It’s not a one-man carry,” Mazzula said at the team’s media day in suburban Boston. “It’s about establishing the identity of our players. We struggled at the start of last season but with a good performance we knew who we were, defensively, our buy-in from a defensive point of view, then sharing the ball and moving quickly on the offensive end.
“So I think it’s the right way to go as long as we stick to the things we were good at last year and find areas where we can improve along the way.”
From everyone who took to the stage on Monday, the overwhelming message from Mazula to the players was that they were all still coming to grips with the events of the past several days. After Udoka oversaw a dramatic turnaround in his first season as head coach, leading Boston from below .500 in late January to the NBA Finals in June, it was expected to be the start of a long run in charge. Franchise.
For the players, this happened until the middle of last week, and each of them did not know anything was coming before ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that Udoka was planning to suspend him last Wednesday for violating the team’s rules. And, even after meeting with the front office and ownership last week, the players admitted they still don’t have much information about what happened. Sources previously told Wojnarowski that Udoka had an affair with a female member of the franchise’s staff.
“It’s been going on a lot,” said Jaylen Brown, who, like Tatum, said he hasn’t spoken to Udoka since last week’s events. “Some we can control, some we can’t. The best thing we can say is to move on.”
“The first reaction was, like you said, I was a little confused. Nobody has any information so it’s hard to comment on how things are going and how the process has gone. The best we can do is put our best foot forward.”
And while the players are in the dark about what happened and it’s clear where things are headed, they understand how the organization is in a difficult situation and everyone’s privacy has become a very complicated situation. Celtics to move forward.
“Literally nobody knows,” said Marcus Smart, the team’s longtime player and NBA Defensive Player of the Year. “We’re still waiting like everybody else. So you want to know as a player [more information], but that is not our concern. It’s their lives, the people involved. It’s between them, and we need to respect and understand that privacy just as we want our privacy to be respected. Although as a player, yes, you want to know, but like I said, it’s not mandatory.
“Like I said, handle it the way you can and the way you know how, and then we’ve got to go.”
The process is in the hands of Mazzula, who went from being the head coach at West Virginia Division Fairmont State from 2017-19 to leading the Boston Celtics, back-to-back Eastern Conference champions and champions. A team that is among the favorites to win again this season.
But while most of Udoka’s staff was new last season after taking over for Brad Stevens — who himself moved upstairs to serve as the team’s president of basketball operations, replacing Danny Ainge — Mazzula remained with Boston. In the year 2019, when he was hired by Stevens to be an assistant coach on their staff.
Smart, in particular, highlighted that extra time as a big help for a team currently trying to run a bit.
“It helps a lot,” Smart said. “Like I said, it was different if we had someone new and we were trying to build that relationship.
“Joe’s been here. He knows the scheme, he knows the players, so it makes it a little easier to adjust to someone who’s been here and knows you.”
Mazzula also had two arrests back in college in 2008 while playing for West Virginia University — once in 2008. After what happened in the bar, the case ended in court.
Last week, Stevens said he thoroughly researched those factors before hiring Mazzula as part of his staff in 2019, saying he believes in Mazzula’s “objectivity” as a person. Mazula, on the other hand, said that he has used what he learned from these incidents to become a better person since then.
“Listen, I’ve made mistakes, I’m not perfect, I’ve hurt people, and I’ve had to use the situations I put myself in as a young person, learn and learn. Be a better person: that’s what I’m trying to focus on.”
“How can I recreate who I am with someone? How can I rely on my faith? And how can I have a positive impact on the people around me? And I’ve always had good people around me.”
He declined to give any details about what happened, but said, “I’m not the person I was.”
“I think as you grow as a person you have to constantly build your identity and at some point in my life I didn’t have an identity, for whatever reason,” Mazula said. “I think, ‘How can I develop an identity? How can I find a foundation, for me it’s my faith and then how can I positively influence the people around me.’ It’s something I’ve learned all my life.
The Celtics will now turn their attention to the start of training camp here on Tuesday, not only without Udoka but also with both of their starting centers, Robert Williams III, who will be out for another eight to 12 weeks before returning to basketball practice. Signed free agent Danilo Gallinari, who suffered a torn ACL late last month following knee surgery.
But all of that has happened over the past few weeks, but it hasn’t dampened his belief that he can go one step further than last season and claim the franchise’s first NBA championship since 2008.
” we can [win a championship]? Do I believe that? Absolutely,” Tatum said when asked if he still believes the team has what it takes to win a title.
“I absolutely believe that, and I think everybody in that locker room does, too.”