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A week before training camp, Joe Mazzulla got thrown into the fire, forced to go from sitting behind the bench a season ago to being at the helm of a title contender. At 34, he became the youngest active head coach in the NBA.

The turmoil surrounding the franchise after Ime Udoka's suspension for violations of team policies, paving the way for the now Rockets' head coach's exit, could've led to Boston stumbling out of the gates. Instead, with an offense producing points at a historic pace, the Celtics got off to a better start than anyone.

At his end-of-season press conference, looking back on Boston's success to begin the campaign, president of basketball operations, Brad Stevens, said of Mazzulla's role in navigating through the turbulence the organization was dealing with, "I think when you consider the position he was thrust into and the overall accomplishments of the group, I thought he did a really good job."


The defending Eastern Conference champions went on to finish with the second-best record in the Association (57-25).

Despite their success, steering from the defensive identity that got them within two wins of a title stood in the way of reaching their full potential. There were multiple occasions players voiced the need for their defense to set the table for their success and stay locked in, regardless of whether shots were finding the mark.

But they could never recapture that formula for more than small stretches. And in a playoff run that brought their flaws to the surface, they were on full display in their Game 7 loss to the Heat.

As Malcolm Brogdon expressed on the heels of Boston's 103-84 season-ending defeat on its home floor, "When we’re not playing well offensively and shots aren’t falling, I think we lose trust," adding, "Then we have more breakdowns on defense because we’re not making shots because we stopped moving the ball. Then defensively, it shows as well."

While it's a painful lesson for a franchise that has to figure out how to ensure last year's run to the Finals isn't as close as they get to a championship before Jayson Tatum's prime comes and goes, at least they have a clear understanding of how to go forward and the identity that best suits them.


But is Mazzulla the right person to guide this team moving forward?

"Yeah, I think he is," Stevens stated. "And I thought, again, he did a really good job with this group. And everybody's gonna 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."

Stevens went on to note, "He's a terrific leader. 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. And 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."


Another issue Boston ran into in the Eastern Conference Finals was the chess match between a rookie head coach, the youngest active bench boss in the NBA, and Miami's Erik Spoelstra, widely regarded, including by this author, as the league's top coach.

Stevens conveyed the following to Inside The Celtics about his involvement in strategic matters and Boston's adjustments from one playoff game to the next, especially when trying to match wits with Spoelstra and a well-rounded coaching staff that includes Chris Quinn, likely a future NBA head coach.

"My job is to be here to support everybody in this building with whatever they need at that time. If somebody wanted to talk about something or if there was something (that) they felt like they needed to share, I think it's important to limit the noise and be on one page.

"Certainly, be involved in conversations and those types of things on how we were gonna play and who we were gonna play, but it wasn't my decision. And I wanted that to be very clear that whatever the coaching staff decides, we all support.

"One of the toughest things about being a coach is you have a million different ideas coming from a million different people. And to be able to sift through that and be able to make the right decision for the team is a challenge. And so, we have to limit that within here to the best that we can."


Now, with Stevens making it clear Mazzulla will have the chance to grow from his first season at the helm, and Boston will pass on hiring a fourth head coach in four years, the Celtics must strengthen the staff around him.

The need to do so becomes even more significant amid Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe reporting assistants Ben Sullivan, Aaron Miles, and Mike Moser are expected to join Udoka in Houston.

Here's what Stevens told Inside The Celtics about flanking Mazzulla with assistants with head coaching experience.

"I think that first of all, Joe's experience now, you could probably measure in dog years. Now he's been in three Eastern Conference Finals and a Finals and now the head coach throughout one of those runs. That's an experience in and of itself. I tried to prepare him for what it was gonna feel like after each game, win or lose. And I know how that feels for those guys. And that's one of the reasons why I always talk about how much I respect Jaylen and Jayson because, after every game that doesn't go your way, they're gonna be dissected. And the further you go, the more it is."

Stevens continued, "With head coaching experience, he's got a ton of that, but we're gonna look for, with at least one addition to the bench, and he'll lead this charge, we'll look for somebody that's got a lot of NBA experience for sure."

Stephen Silas, the former Rockets' head coach Udoka is replacing, was at the Auerbach Center at times during the playoffs and showed up to TD Garden. So did Phil Pressey. As the Celtics aim to bolster their coaching staff, it seems like there's a good chance both are in Boston next season.

Further Reading

Celtics' Coaching Staff Reportedly Undergoing Major Shakeup

Celtics' Championship Aspirations Undermined by Identity Crisis

With Partnership at Crossroads, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum Discuss Former's Future with Celtics

Celtics Discuss Trying to Overcome Jayson Tatum's Ankle Injury in Game 7 Loss to Heat: 'A Shell of Myself'

Malcolm Brogdon Explains What Caused Boston Celtics to Miss 2023 NBA Finals

Here's What Stood Out in Game 7 Loss to Heat: Celtics Come Up Small, Enter Offseason of Uncertainty