Danny Ainge still keeps tabs on the Celtics, and he had a somewhat surprising view of the team.

The Utah Jazz executive communicates often with his son, Austin, who is the director of player personnel for Boston. Danny Ainge retired as Celtics president of basketball operations in 2021, so there still are multiple people within the organization who he has ties with, including Brad Stevens, who was elevated to Ainge’s role after his retirement.

“I work for another company now, but I’m trying to defend my friends,” Ainge told The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy. “I know (Celtics head coach) Joe (Mazzulla). I hired Joe four or five years ago to work in our G League. I still cheer for my friends.

“I don’t think the team quit on Joe. There was pretty good evidence they did not quit on the coach. I just think they weren’t playing well. The team’s overall confidence struggled after the comeback wins against Philly, which was really the highlight of the season.”

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Stevens took a similar outlook on Mazzulla’s first season as an NBA head coach and affirmed in his Thursday news conference that Mazzulla would return for a second season despite the Celtics losing to the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

What the front office must do in the offseason is fill up Mazzulla’s staff, which lost Will Hardy to the Jazz, Damon Stoudamire to Georgia Tech and will lose three assistants to Ime Udoka and the Houston Rockets.

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Ainge pointed out how the players continued to back Mazzulla and understood there should be changes made. However, he had an interesting view of the transition from Udoka to the 34-year-old head coach.

“You see Joe’s toughness and stubbornness,” Ainge said. “He’s a relentless worker. He has a passion to learn. Joe is a leader, and I think this was a difficult situation with the high expectations the team had coming in. I don’t think there’s anybody there that doesn’t believe that Joe is better than Ime as a coach.”

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Ainge certainly should not be tasked with keeping tabs on the public opinion, but the narrative around Boston has been the complete opposite of that final statement. The Celtics reportedly clashed with Mazzulla’s focus on offense and felt the team lost their defensive identity that was built under Udoka.

It’s an interesting viewpoint since Ainge, presumably, has no reason to publicly back Mazzulla now that he works with another franchise — though, he did want to interview the then-assistant before hiring Hardy as head coach. But what is clear is the spotlight will only shine brighter on Mazzulla as he enters his first full offseason with the Celtics.

Featured image via Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Images