Boston president of basketball operations Brad Stevens and Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck spoke glowingly of Mazzulla, an assistant coach under Udoka, during a press conference Friday, and perhaps their confidence stems largely from the relationships already in place inside the locker room.
Mazzulla clearly has left an impression on key members of the organization, including Celtics star Jayson Tatum, who sang the coach’s praises back in June during Boston’s NBA Finals matchup with the Golden State Warriors.
“I love Joe,” Tatum told reporters on June 15, one day before Boston’s season ended with a Game 6 loss at TD Garden. “I think just being around him for the last — I think this is his second or third year, you could tell how passionate he is about the guys and his craft. He’s gotten so much more knowledgeable, more detailed and just more vocal and more comfortable in his role as a coach. You’ve seen a growth from his first year.
“He’s helped me out tremendously as a player and as a person. I can’t say enough good things about Joe. Everybody appreciates what he brings to this team, and I’m glad that we have him.”
Mazzulla’s tenure with the Celtics predates Udoka, whom Stevens hired as Boston’s head coach last offseason after replacing Danny Ainge in the franchise’s front office. The players offered positive feedback that Udoka weighed heavily when deciding who would join him on the Celtics’ bench for his first season in Boston.
“I talked to everybody in the organization when I got hired, players included,” Udoka said on June 15. “(Mazzulla) got glowing reviews. I didn’t know much about him going into it. I take the players’ opinions at a high value. He was a guy that there was a consensus, yes, somebody that they all worked with closely, believed in and understood his upside.”
Of course, having a good relationship with the players doesn’t guarantee on-court success for the Celtics with Mazzulla now in charge, especially since he’ll be replacing a coach who made a tremendous impact last season. It’s certainly encouraging for Boston, though, as the existing respect could serve as a calming and/or motivating factor as the C’s look to overcome the adversity they’ve been dealt with Udoka’s suspension.