Brad Stevens has had a difficult 36 hours as the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations.
His Thursday began with a bombshell report from ESPN’s Wojnarowski that his team’s coach, Ime Udoka, had violated team policy with a reported intimate relationship with a franchise staff member. By the end of the day, his team was without a coach for the next season as it suspended Udoka for the entire 2022-23 campaign.
The next man up is former WVU star and current Celtics assistant Joe Mazzulla. A relative newcomer to the staff, Mazzulla joined Boston in 2019 after leading Division II Fairmont State for a pair of seasons.
Luckily for Stevens, it seems Mazzulla might be the bright spot in an otherwise dark situation for the franchise.
“Joe’s going to be in charge, and, you know, it’s not an easy timing for him or the rest of the staff,” Stevens said on Friday.
Mazzulla took over as interim coach just five days before its training camp tips off and 10 days before its first preseason game against the Hornets. Stevens does have confidence in the 34-year-old due to his experience with the team over the last three seasons.
In addition to his time on Udoka’s bench, Mazzulla does have some head coaching experience. In 2021, he was named the coach of Boston’s contingent at the NBA Summer League. He helped lead the squad to the league’s championship game.
“He’s an exceptionally sharp and talented person, and I believe strongly in him and his ability to lead people, his ability to galvanize a room to get behind him, and his ability to, like, organize and understand all that comes with running a team during a season,” Stevens said.
In addition to Mazzulla, he has a group of assistants that Stevens feels good about.
There are high expectations heading into this season. Led by two of the NBA’s brightest young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics aim to improve on their 2021-22 run to the NBA Finals and bring home a championship.
Udoka’s suspension brings throws an unexpected wrench in that dream shortly before the season, but Stevens said his group is up to the challenge.
“They’re a really good group and they’re going to need to pull together and they’re going to really need to support each other,” Stevens said. “And I believe in Joe’s leadership and again, with all of them, bringing their strengths to the table. I think that this will be an unbelievable challenge, but I’m really confident in the team and coaching staff that will take the court on Tuesday. It’s not what we expected to have happened, but I’m very confident.”