Joe Mazzulla

Atlantic Notes: Ainge, Mazzulla, Hardy, Brown, Trent Jr.

Danny Ainge may be running the Jazz but his heart is still in Boston. Utah’s top executive admits he’s still a big Celtics fan, thanks to the longtime ties he has to the organization. “I root hard for the Celtics,” Ainge told Jay King of The Athletic.

He also likes what he sees from Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, who went from assistant to interim coach to head coach this season.

“I just always liked Joe’s work ethic, his focus, his intelligence,” Ainge said of the Celtics’ new coach. “I feel like Joe is one of those guys — one way that I’ve always measured greatness is how much a person can learn from mistakes they make. Joe’s going to learn from his mistakes, just like (Utah coach) Will Hardy learns from his mistakes quickly. … The coaches that learn and move on, they become the legendary coaches. And I think both Joe and Will have a chance to be those.”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Speaking of Hardy and Mazzulla, they remain in frequent contact with each other, according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. The Jazz recorded a one-point win over Boston on Saturday. “I’d like to think we made each other better on and off the court,” Mazzulla said. “Just his mind, the way he thinks, the way he prepares. Really got to watch him be an associate head coach and how he served (Ime Udoka) and how he served our staff. Just a lot of great things I learned from him.”
  • Center Moses Brown attended high school at New York’s Archbishop Malloy. He’s thrilled that the Nets signed him to a 10-day contract, Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post writes. “I’ve been on a lot of teams all over the country, and it’s just cool to be home,” he said. “Every time we would drive throughout Brooklyn, I would watch the Barclays Center’s progress every year (while it was being constructed). That was the new team. I remember, growing up, just liking the colors, the uniforms, everything.”
  • The Raptors’ 15-point win over Minnesota included a 19-point outing off the bench from Gary Trent Jr., who is expected to opt out of his $18.56MM contract for next season in order to become a free agent. Trent was a starter for much of the season, but head coach Nick Nurse said that having the veteran wing on the second unit has been a huge boost to the bench. “We need his offensive production,” Nurse told Eric Koreen of The Athletic. “It’s kind of his role on the team, is to keep the offense ticking over when some of the main guys are off the floor.”

Celtics Notes: R. Williams, Mazzulla, White, Horford

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla announced that center Robert Williams will be sidelined for seven-to-10 days with a strained left hamstring, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. However, given Williams’ history of injuries, Washburn believes he could be out longer and it might be best to shut him down until the playoffs.

Williams didn’t play Sunday after hurting his hamstring in Friday’s loss to the Nets. Washburn notes that even though Sunday’s game went to two overtimes, Mazzulla didn’t bring big men Luke Kornet or Blake Griffin off his bench. Grant Williams was used at center for long stretches of the game, and the Knicks repeatedly attacked him on the pick-and-roll.

According to Washburn, the Celtics believe they can survive the loss of their starting center with their current rotation of big men. However, he notes that the team has an open roster spot and there are numerous veteran free agents for president of basketball operations Brad Stevens to consider.

There’s more from Boston:

  • After holding the NBA’s best record for most of the season, the Celtics have now dropped three of their last four games, Washburn adds. Mazzulla said he has “zero concerns” about the recent rough patch, framing it as an opportunity for the team to grow. “You obviously want to be playing your best basketball later in the season as you get closer to the playoffs, but this is a tough stretch,” Mazzulla said. “And whatever this stretch has you have to learn from it and use it later in the year.”
  • With Robert Williams unavailable, Mazzulla went back to his early-season lineup by inserting Derrick White into the starting five, per Brian Robb of MassLive. White had 12 points, six rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes, and Robb suggests he could be considered the team’s third-most valuable player behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
  • Al Horford believes a lack of focus is causing the Celtics to let big leads slip away, according to Souichi Terada of MassLive. Brooklyn overcame a 28-point deficit Friday night, and New York trailed by as many as 14 points on Sunday. “We’re not locking in as much as we need to,” Horford said. “This is the second time that we kind of have a lead, we feel good about it, a team makes a run and we just kind of let them back in the game. And throughout the season, you’re gonna have adversity. We’ve played pretty good basketball most of the year, and this is a time where you tighten up, you fix some of these things, some of these issues, or it goes the other way.”

Celtics Notes: Horford, G. Williams, Mazzulla, R. Williams

Al Horford seemed to accept a deal below his market value when he agreed to a two-year, $20MM extension with the Celtics in December, but an unidentified league executive tells Steve Bulpett of Heavy that Horford’s decision was likely driven by market realities as well as his loyalty to Boston. Although Horford remains productive, he’ll turn 37 this summer. Most of the teams with cap room are rebuilding and won’t be looking for older players.

“Look at Boston. This is a perfect situation — for both sides,” the executive said. “Al’s a really important part of what they do. But if they didn’t already have him — if he was a free agent last summer — they wouldn’t have been able to spend big money on him. But it’s clear he wanted to stay there now, and this deal is good for him, too. He didn’t break the bank, but after all that he’s made in his career, that probably wasn’t that important to him. He gets good money to be where he really wants to be. There’s a value in that. And by signing for two more years now, it also covers him in the event of an injury that either stops him from playing or makes him a lot less effective.”

Horford was a fixture in Boston for three years before accepting a big-money offer from the Sixers in 2019. Earlier this season, Horford told Bulpett that the disruptive atmosphere Kyrie Irving brought to the Celtics played a role in his decision to move on.

“I just think that if Kyrie would have stayed, I don’t know if it would have worked,” Horford said. “There would have had to be some major changes as far as players, because it was just clear that the group that we had just wasn’t going to be able to coexist.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • Grant Williams logged 18 minutes Friday night after not playing at all on Wednesday. A prolonged shooting slump from beyond the arc and the addition of Mike Muscala at the trade deadline have cut into playing time for Williams, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, notes Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. “He knows what he brings to this team and the type of player he is,” Jaylen Brown said of Williams. “He’s been able to carve value out in this league, so a couple games here and there based upon whatever the coaching staff thinks doesn’t mean any more or less.”
  • Joe Mazzulla has done an admirable coaching job, but there were red flags as a 28-point lead disappeared in Friday’s loss to the Nets, writes Brian Robb of MassLive. Mazzulla was reluctant to match up when Brooklyn used smaller lineups and his bench remains disorganized beyond Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon, Robb observes.
  • Robert Williams has been ruled out for Sunday after leaving Friday’s game with tightness in his left hamstring, tweets Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

Celtics Notes: Open Roster Spot, Brown, Griffin, Mazzulla

Most of the best options on the buyout market have gone to other teams, but the Celtics plan to find someone to fill their open roster spot, writes Souichi Terada of MassLive. Whoever gets signed probably won’t play much, but owner Wyc Grousbeck confirms that Boston will have a full roster before the postseason begins.

“We’re looking at buyout candidates and free agents,” he said. “I’d be very surprised if we went into the playoffs with an open roster spot, don’t think that’s going to happen. … All those things are in process, but no, we’re not saving roster spots for a rainy day. We just gotta find the right fit.”

One potential candidate, according to Terada, is veteran swingman Will Barton, who reached a buyout agreement with the Wizards this week. The Celtics may be Barton’s best option to win a ring, although he could seek out a larger role with another team. Terada points to Stanley Johnson and John Wall as other possibilities, along with Juan Toscano-Anderson if he agrees to a buyout with the Jazz.

There’s more from Boston:

  • The Celtics have been dealing with injuries to their rotation players all season, but they’re fully healthy coming out of the All-Star break, Terada adds in another MassLive story. Jaylen Brown missed the previous four games with a facial fracture, but he’s not on the injury report after playing 25 minutes in the All-Star Game.
  • Blake Griffin‘s NBA experiences over 12 years enable him to relate to both the stars and role players on the Celtics’ roster, observes Jay King of The Athletic. Griffin is only playing sporadically in his first season in Boston, but he has become a popular leader in the locker room. “As you get older, you have to be somewhat self-aware,” Griffin said. “I don’t even know if self-aware is the right word. Just in touch with reality. Some guys just want to go make as much money as they possibly can. And I don’t fault anybody for any decision that they make, guys have to take care of what they want to take care of. I’ve been fortunate enough to be on some good teams and be in the position I am to be able to make these decisions based on trying to win a championship. So you have to let go of your ego and just be self-aware about your game. But the biggest driving point to me is just winning.”
  • Having the word “interim” removed from his job title isn’t a big deal for head coach Joe Mazzulla, who tells Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press, “The interim tag was never a thing because we’re all interims.”

Atlantic Notes: Tatum, Udoka, Mazzulla, Brunson, Hart, Dinwiddie, Bridges

Head coach Joe Mazzulla had the interim tag removed by the Celtics, but star forward Jayson Tatum hopes Ime Udoka lands on his feet and revives his coaching career. He even called the suspended Udoka his favorite coach he’s played under, he told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

“It’s been a tough situation for everyone involved,” Tatum said. “Whatever happened, happened. That didn’t have anything to do with me. I can’t take away the relationship that me and him had. And the impact that he had on us last season. I love Coach K, I love Brad (Stevens), I love (Mazzulla), I love all those guys. It’s just a different kind of relationship I had with Ime. He’s probably the most favorite coach I’ve had.”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Stevens, now the Celtics‘ top exec, wanted to remove the cloud of uncertainty surrounding Mazzulla, leading to his promotion, according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic (Twitter links). Stevens has also been impressed how Mazzulla has navigated a difficult situation. “He’s an outstanding leader,” Stevens said. “I think he’s done a great job right from the get-go of galvanizing our locker room around a mission.” Mazzulla’s promotion was announced on Thursday.
  • Villanova’s largest fan base is situated in New York City, according to former coach Jay Wright, and that’s why there’s plenty of excitement that the Knicks have former Wildcats Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart, he told Zach Braziller of the New York Post. “Villanova people are just going crazy over it because they’re all Knicks fans,” he said. “It’s really thrilling for all of us. To see the joy it’s bringing all the Villanova people, and I should say the people who aren’t Knicks fans, they are now, Villanovans. You’re like a proud father, you’re watching your kids out there. It’s like they’re starting a business or something.”
  • Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie have already emerged as the Nets’ new leaders after being acquired at the trade deadline, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post (subscription required). “Right now, I think it’s been Spencer and Mikal, just naturally their IQ and want and feel for the game,” coach Jacque Vaughn said.

Celtics Promote Joe Mazzulla To Head Coach

Joe Mazzulla is officially the head coach of the Celtics, with the interim tag now removed from his job title, the team announced (via Twitter). Mazzulla also received a contract extension, although terms of the deal weren’t released.

“As he has shown, Joe is a very talented coach and leader,” said president of basketball operations Brad Stevens. “He has a unique ability to galvanize a room around a mission. We are thankful for the work he has done to help get us to this point, and excited that he has agreed to lead us into the future.”

Mazzulla took over when Ime Udoka was suspended in September following an inappropriate relationship with a staff member. Mazzulla has guided the Celtics to a league-best 41-17 record, winning Coach of the Month honors for October and November, and will coach Team Giannis in this weekend’s All-Star Game.

The team’s official announcement acknowledges that Mazzulla replaces Udoka, who led Boston to a 51-31 mark and an NBA Finals appearance in his only season at the helm.

Despite the circumstances that led to his dismissal, Udoka is expected to be a strong candidate for any head coaching jobs that open up after this season, tweets Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

Mazzulla, 34, joined the Celtics staff as an assistant in 2019. After playing college basketball at West Virginia, he held coaching jobs in the NCAA and with Boston’s G League affiliate.

Atlantic Notes: Simmons, Warren, Mazzulla, Celtics’ Targets, Barnes

Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said Ben Simmons is “showing signs of progress” regarding his left knee soreness, according to Mark Sanchez of the New York Post. However, Simmons will miss his third consecutive game when the team faces Boston on Wednesday, ESPN’s Nick Friedell tweets. Forward T.J. Warren (left shin contusion) will also miss his third straight contest.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla, a little-known assistant when training camp approached, will now coach in the All-Star Game, the league’s PR department tweets. Boston’s interim head coach and his staff will coach Team Giannis, thanks to Boston’s Eastern Conference-leading record.
  • Could the Celtics target Mason Plumlee, P.J. Washington or even bring back Kelly Olynyk for a second stint? The Athletic’s Jay King examines some of the frontcourt trade options the franchise might explore.
  • While the Raptors may be sellers or buyers at the trade deadline, their star second-year forward Scottie Barnes — who isn’t going anywhere — continues to shine, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star notes. Warriors coach Steve Kerr compare Barnes to Draymond Green. “Guys like that have a feel for the game. They have a sense of what’s happening on the floor seemingly before the other nine people out there,” Kerr said. “That’s why I enjoy watching Barnes play. For a young guy, he has a great feel for the game.”

Celtics Notes: Udoka, Mazzulla, Pritchard, Jackson, White

The Celtics continue to hope their coaching situation resolves itself with Ime Udoka landing another job, but a rival general manager tells Steve Bullpett of Heavy that may not be likely. Although Boston is expected to keep Joe Mazzulla in place beyond this season, he’s still technically the interim coach. Udoka’s suspension for an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate will expire June 30, and the team may have to negotiate a settlement to keep both Udoka and Mazzulla happy.

The problem appeared to be solved when Udoka emerged as the frontrunner for the Nets’ job after they parted ways with Steve Nash in November. But Brooklyn officials changed their minds about hiring Udoka, which the GM believes may reflect the opinion around the league.

“There’s still a lot of question about all that went on with him, but even just the fact that he didn’t fight the suspension says something,” the GM said. “From a team standpoint, it’s hard to bring him in right now. You’ve got women on your staff that could have a problem with it, and there’s the public. … Just the social media climate would bring a lot of criticism.”

There’s more on the Celtics:

  • Payton Pritchard has sat out 14 games this season due to coach’s decision, but he has been delivering when called on, observes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. Pritchard turned in solid performances this week while replacing Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, and he might see regular minutes during Brown’s expected absence. There have been trade rumors regarding Pritchard, who will be eligible for a rookie scale extension during the offseason, but he’s been trying to ignore them and focus on playing. “Obviously I hear it, I see it,” he said. “I know what it is. But that’s not something I can focus on. I’ll let my agent handle that and (team president) Brad (Stevens). I’ll focus on basketball.”
  • The decision to keep Justin Jackson on the roster past last weekend’s salary guarantee date was made to provide insurance in case of a long-term injury to Brown or Jayson Tatum, Brian Robb of MassLive states in a mailbag column. The Celtics don’t have many other options at the wing, Robb adds, so it was safer to guarantee Jackson’s contract than to fill the opening through 10-day deals.
  • Derrick White was forced to leave Saturday’s game at Charlotte after spraining his neck midway through the first quarter, per Souichi Terada of MassLive.

Celtics Notes: Mazzulla, Brown, Pritchard, Vonleh

Interim head coach Joe Mazzulla was back on the Celtics‘ bench Sunday night after missing two games with corneal abrasions, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. Mazzulla was scratched in the eye while fighting for a rebound during a pickup game Tuesday at TD Garden.

It was difficult for him to see during a pre-game session with reporters that night, and he turned over the team to assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who also handled Thursday’s win over the Clippers. Mazzulla called the injury a “freak accident” and said it won’t stop him from playing pickup basketball.

“I wasn’t getting any better,” Mazzulla said about his condition Tuesday. “In that situation I thought it was a good opportunity to empower and entrust the staff and I didn’t feel like I was at my best and I didn’t want to be a distraction. It was a great opportunity (for Damon). It says a lot about the culture we have in place. It ran itself. Our staff really stepped up. (Damon) did a great job. I’m really happy for him.”

There’s more on the Celtics:

  • Sunday’s loss at Denver included a 40-minute delay in the fourth quarter after Robert Williams bent the rim on a dunk (video link). Jaylen Brown was critical of how the incident was handled, saying there was “no communication” with players, per Souichi Terada of MassLive. “Spent all that time trying to fix it. But when we came back, it still looked like it wasn’t even level, in my opinion,” Brown said. “So we just wasted all that time that has an effect on the game. That’s how injuries and stuff happen. Luckily, they didn’t. But that wasn’t good. That whole process was handled poorly, in my opinion, and that had an effect on the game as well. Luckily, nobody got hurt.”
  • Brown brushed aside a fourth quarter altercation with Nuggets guard Bones Hyland, according to Brian Robb of MassLive. The players got tangled up when Brown fouled Hyland on a drive to the basket, and Hyland responded by pushing Brown to the floor. Brown got up and challenged Hyland before officials and teammates separated them. Both players received technical fouls, but they shook hands afterward. “It was just two guys being competitive,” Brown said. “Wasn’t no smoke behind it.”
  • The Celtics aren’t likely to trade Payton Pritchard before the February 9 deadline, Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe states in a prediction column for the new year. He says Pritchard still has value to the team because he’s only 24 and would be needed in the event of a backcourt injury. Himmelsbach predicts a quiet deadline for Boston, which already parted with next year’s first-round pick in the Malcolm Brogdon trade. He also expects Noah Vonleh to be waived this week before his salary becomes fully guaranteed.

Atlantic Notes: Toppin, Randle, Powell, Mazzulla

Knicks forward Obi Toppin is still in the early stages of rehab from his right leg injury, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

Toppin, who has not played since Dec. 7, said his workouts are limited to spot-up shooting, pool work and upper-body weightlifting. The Knicks’ primary backup to Julius Randle will need “couple more reevaluations” before returning from the fractured bone in his leg.

“Not really any pain, but I could not feel pain and it could still be messed up,” Toppin said. “So it’s all up to [the Knicks’ medical staff]. Whenever they feel I should be back, that’s when I’ll come back.”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Randle caused a stir, particularly among Knicks fans, when he sat in the front row of Mavericks-Jazz playoff game last spring. Randle was accompanied by Knicks executives William Wesley and Alan Houston, but Randle insists they weren’t there to be seen by potential acquisitions Jalen Brunson and Donovan Mitchell. Randle, who lives in the Dallas area, claimed Tuesday it was just a coincidence, Bondy writes. “I didn’t even know [Wesley and Houston] were in town,” he said. “Just so happened to happen like that.”
  • Former Raptors champion and current Clippers forward Norman Powell returned to Toronto on Tuesday for the first time since Feb. 28, 2020, Law Murray of The Athletic tweets. The Raptors were on a road trip when the pandemic hit and then played in the Orlando bubble before spending the next season in Tampa, with Powell traded to Portland midway through that year. He was inactive for the Trail Blazers’ game in Toronto last season and was dealt to the Clippers after Los Angeles had already played there.
  • The Celtics still don’t plan to remove the interim tag from Joe Mazzulla before the end of the season, according to Adam Himmelbach of the Boston Globe. Ime Udoka‘s suspension is due to end in June. Mazzulla, who missed Tuesday’s game due to eye irritation, according to Jared Weiss (Twitter link), may have been given some assurances about his future privately by the front office. It’s expected that Mazzulla will be retained as the head coach after the season.