Saturday, June 3, 2023

Former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge defends Joe Mazzulla

The Celtics have had a fair share of criticism since their Game 7 blowout loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals earlier this week.

One that has been given a slice of the blame pie has been first year head coach Joe Mazzulla, who took over just days prior to the start of training camp following the suspension of Ime Udoka -- who has since been let go.

On Thursday, president of basketball operations Brad Stevens held his end of the season press conference to confirm that Mazzulla will return as the Celtics head coach and going as far as saying how pleased he was with the 34-year old, giving the circumstances prior to the start of the 2022-23 campaign.
"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."
Despite being heavily critiqued throughout the Celtics playoff run on timeout usage and rotations that many believed led to the team coming up short when it came to their championship aspirations, Mazzulla has one supporter from afar named Danny Ainge that believes in his coaching ability.
"I work for another company now, but I'm trying to defend my friends," Ainge said in a recent interview with The Boston Globe. "I know 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.
"No coach can go through a series and not make mistakes, just like players make mistakes, but we saw some patterns of isolation basketball and going through stretches of not making threes. That's not just with this group; we've seen this throughout the NBA. Teams go on these long 3-point droughts. Their energy level is higher when they make shots, and the Celtics are not unique in that aspect." 
Ainge, the former Celtics president of basketball operations and now an executive in Utah, interviewed Mazzulla and Will Hardy (both C's assistants at the time) for the vacant Jazz head coaching job after parting ways with Quin Snyder in the summer of 2022. Ainge ultimately hired Hardy for the position, while also trying to bring in Mazzulla as an assistant, but Boston reportedly blocked it.
"You see Joe's toughness and stubbornness. He's a relentless worker," Ainge later added. "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 [Udoka] as a coach."
While Ainge's praise of Mazzulla doesn't come as a surprise, it does reassure that the expectations for the Celtics head coach remains high -- especially if Stevens' plan to hire a veteran assistant or two to beef up the current coaching staff comes to fruition.

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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