The words "confusing," "shocking" and "difficult" were used multiple times throughout Monday afternoon as the Celtics hosted their annual Media Day. That was the bleak verbiage being brought forth to discuss the suspension of head coach Ime Udoka, an uncomfortable topic of discussion for most of the Celtics.
The players, much like the rest of us, are still not exactly sure about what went on, with many of the players not commenting on the suspension due to the lack of details they have received.
Udoka’s suspension came just five days before the start of Celtics training camp, leaving the organization to pivot to interim head coach Joe Mazzulla, who has been an assistant with the Celtics since 2019. The Rhode Island native received high praise from President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens when the team announced he would be taking over for Udoka, with Stevens saying “Joe is the best choice by a long shot. As you go through the whole process it all hits you, but we have the best people in place to do that, and Joe is the best person to do that in our organization”.
It was made obvious on Monday that Stevens and the players are on the same page, at least when it comes to Mazzulla.
Despite all the confusion and discomfort regarding Udoka’s suspension, this team seems to fully believe in Mazzulla and his ability to repeat last season’s success, as evidenced by their high praise for the 34-year-old coach.
The timing of Mazzulla’s takeover is far from ideal as the Celtics will take the court for their first preseason game this coming Sunday, leaving Mazzulla a little over a week to settle in as the new head coach. Mazzulla was showered with praise from his players all throughout the afternoon Monday, and it started with Jaylen Brown.
When asked if transitioning to a new head coach this late in the offseason could possibly put the Celtics behind Brown said, “I’m optimistic. I believe in Joe, Joe believes in me… I don’t think he sees a limit”.
The Celtics prided themselves on defense last season, which is why they were so successful down the stretch. They ranked among the top of the league in almost every defensive statistical category. Derrick White, who was traded to the Celtics at last season’s trade deadline was one of the Celtics best defensive players in last season’s playoffs. When White met with the media Monday, he credited Mazzulla for helping him on the defensive end. “Joe was a big part of the coaching staff," White explained. " Especially for me personally. He was always talking to me about defensive assignments and defensive philosophies. I think it’s just gonna carry over”.
The praise for Mazzulla went further than trust and Xs and Os. More importantly, the players respect Mazzulla. Grant Williams, who has been with Mazzulla since his rookie year said “I don’t think anyone in this organization doesn’t respect Joe. He’s had that presence since he has been a coach here”.
The relationships between Mazzulla and the players are already there, and they appear to be strong. One thing that this Celtics team excelled at last season was responding to adversity. The players seem to understand the difficulty of the situation Mazzulla is being put in and want to succeed for their new head coach. Al Horford, who is two years older than Mazzulla said, “Joe is somebody we all respect and we’re going to rally behind him”.
Every player that met with the media Monday was glowing about Mazzulla. Believe it or not, this is a guy that appears to already have this locker room. Jayson Tatum mentioned that the team is “comfortable” with Mazzulla and if that’s the case, the Celtics may not miss a beat.