Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla drives a van. He doesn’t know if he has a special parking spot as the team’s head coach. This season is his first leading an NBA team, and his only previous head coaching experience has come at the NCAA Division II level.
In many ways, Mazzulla is a deeply unusual figure at the top of an organization’s coaching staff.
But Mazzulla and the Celtics, of course, found themselves in a deeply unusual place – a defending Eastern Conference champion recharged after a very successful offseason, but missing their head coach after Ime Udoka was suspended for the year. , would have due to an inappropriate relationship with a team staff member.
That leaves Mazzulla to pick up the pieces and figure out what’s next for a franchise with championship aspirations. Yet, according to him, his job is simply to continue to build the foundation laid by last year’s team.
“I park in the same spot,” Mazzulla told reporters after the Celtics’ first practice of training camp on Tuesday. “I do what I’m supposed to do. And I think that’s part of it. The same thing I ask players to do, I have to do. I have to do my job – I have to do it one day at a time, and I can’t skip any steps either.
Mazzulla’s first practice was a success, if you ask the players who took part in it.
“It was a great day,” said Grant Williams. “Everyone was here competing. You could see everyone was expecting to return to the pitch, everyone was anxious and ready to go. …
“We did a great job of dictating training, controlling the mood and controlling our effort, so have a great first day.”
Mazzulla knows that he and Udoka are different – he likes to move, for example, where Udoka was more stoic. But he tried to maintain some consistency for a team that had such a chaotic week that Marcus Smart described it as “hell for us”.
“I felt the structure was the same, the weather was the same, the pattern of the exercises we were doing was the same,” Mazzulla said. “Communication is maybe a little different, but even if these guys can be comfortable, it will help us. …
“If I can collaborate with them on how we’re going to make them feel comfortable and then decide together where we need to be at both ends of the floor, that’s kind of what’s going to help us create our identity. .”
Williams reiterated what several players said during the media day – Mazzulla’s long tenure with the team makes him a comfortable replacement for Udoka. Mazzulla joined the Celtics in 2019 under Brad Stevens and has remained a constant presence with the franchise ever since.
“He knows these guys better than anyone who’s been around them for four years, and the ups and downs,” Williams said. “He was with us when we were losing two years ago and when we were winning last year, so he has a good understanding of what we need and where we need to improve.”
Al Horford, meanwhile, noted that the players were ready to return to the pitch anyway.
“[Mazzulla] did a good job,” Horford said. “But I think everyone was so locked in, we were all so ready to go that once we got out on the pitch it was just nice to get back on the pitch and see our defense again and talk. of attack. Do what we do.
Mazzulla and the Celtics know things will change over the course of the season. Although Udoka was still with the team, there are new faces – notably Malcolm Brogdon – and the Celtics have a newly acquired target on their backs after their run to the Finals. They won’t sneak up on anyone.
“Teams are going to play us even more differently, but we expect that,” Horford said.
Maybe at some point things will be so different that Mazzulla will get her own parking spot.
“I didn’t even ask,” Mazzulla said. “It’s not that important. The most important thing is to make sure that I do what I have to do to help these guys.
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