Thursday, June 1, 2023

Brad Stevens says Joe Mazzulla will return as Celtics coach: 'I thought he did a really good job with this group'

Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens spoke to the media Thursday afternoon following his team getting eliminated by the Miami Heat from the Eastern Conference Finals.

In the wake of a lopsided 103-84 Game 7 loss, Stevens confirmed the return of his interim turned head coach Joe Mazzulla -- who many place the majority of the blame for Boston falling one win short of back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals.

While Stevens admitted that the 34-year-old rookie coach was learning on the fly and his inexperience showed at times throughout the playoffs, he also believes Mazzulla is the best option for the Celtics moving forward.
"I thought he did a really good job with this group," Stevens said during his presser. "Everybody is going to overreact to the best players and coaches after every game. That's always the way it is. We know that going in. So, we have to be able to judge things on the whole."
Mazzulla took over a roster that had championship aspirations just days before training camp, for the then suspended Ime Udoka. Boston went on to win 57 games -- the most since the 2008-09 season -- and the second best overall record in the East and the league.
"He's a terrific leader," Stevens continued. "He'll only get better at anything that he can learn from this year because he's constantly trying to learn. And he's accountable. Those leadership qualities are hard to find. I know they're easy to talk about, but when you can show all those through the expectations and the microscope that he was under, that's hard to do."
After a blowout loss in Game 3 to the Heat, Mazzulla took the blame that had the C's starring at a 3-0 series deficit and on the brink of being swept, before they knocked off three straight to force a Game 7 at TD Garden -- to which they ultimately failed to complete what would have been the first comeback in playoff history after losing the first three games in a best-of-7.
"Was he perfect? Would he like to have some moments back? Every coach would," Stevens said. "Even the coaches nobody talks about would. We all that have coached know how hard that is. At the same time, our players, our staff, everybody around him believes in him and we've got to do our best to support him going forward."
Stevens also pointed out that he wants to add a highly experienced veteran assistant coach to support Mazzulla. According to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe, Udoka -- now the head coach in Houston -- is expected to hire three of Mazzulla's assistants. After losing top assistant Damon Stoudamire to Georgia Tech back in March, it's likely Ben Sullivan, Aaron Miles and Mike Moser will head to the Rockets to join Udoka's coaching staff.
"We're going to look for at least one addition to the bench," Stevens said.
"[Mazzulla] is going to lead the charge, but we're going to look for somebody that's got a lot of NBA experience for sure."
Stevens also says how impressed he was with Mazzulla's handling of being named interim coach just before the start of the season, calling the way the team began the 2022-23 campaign "remarkable."
"I might have said this in September: I couldn't have done that. I always needed a whole summer of planning, a whole summer of thinking and organizing thoughts and being able to get yourself to emphasize what you want to emphasize on a daily basis. There's no question [more time] will be a huge benefit."
In the meantime, Mazzulla reportedly has three-years at $14 million, still left on his current deal.

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of CLNS Media

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