Joe Mazzulla

And-Ones: Kawhi, Team USA, FAs, Musa, Coaches, More

With 11 of 12 roster spots reportedly locked in for USA Basketball’s 2024 Olympic roster, the program could go in a number of different directions with the 12th and final slot. The list of players in contention for that final roster spot includes plenty of big names, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, who reports that Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is currently viewed as the leading candidate.

Leonard’s teammate Paul George, Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, Magic forward Paolo Banchero, and Nets forward Mikal Bridges are also in the mix, sources tell Charania.

Leonard hasn’t represented Team USA at the Olympics or a World Cup before, but has support from some of the stars on the roster, including Kevin Durant and LeBron James, says Charania. George won gold with Team USA in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, while Brunson, Banchero, and Bridges competed in the 2023 World Cup.

It’s possible that more than one player in that final group of candidates could ultimately make the cut if any of the top 11 have to drop out due to an injury or for personal reasons. Of course, Leonard is currently dealing with a nagging knee issue of his own, though there’s no indication at this point it would prevent him from playing in July.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Danny Leroux of The Athletic takes a look at the NBA’s 2024 free agent class, evaluating what sort of stars, starters, and rotation players will be available. As Leroux observes, a handful of stars are on track for potential free agency, but few – if any – are good bets to change teams. That group includes LeBron James, Paul George, James Harden, Pascal Siakam, and Tyrese Maxey.
  • In an interview with Dean Sinovcic of, former first-round pick Dzanan Musa, who spent two seasons in Brooklyn from 2018-20, didn’t rule out the possibility of returning to the NBA as early as this offseason, but said he’s focused for now on trying to win Liga ACB and EuroLeague titles with Real Madrid (hat tip to Sportando).
  • Sam Amick of The Athletic considers what’s at stake for each NBA head coach in the postseason, suggesting that the pressure will be on Joe Mazzulla (Celtics) to at least reach the NBA Finals. Jason Kidd (Mavericks), J.B. Bickerstaff (Cavaliers), and Darvin Ham (Lakers) are among the others who will be motivated to avoid early exits, Amick adds.
  • In a conversation about end-of-season awards, a panel of five ESPN experts weren’t in agreement on who should win Most Improved Player or Sixth Man of the Year. Three different players – Malik Monk, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Naz Reid – earned votes from the five-man panel for Sixth Man honors.
  • Which NBA players were the most underpaid this season? Despite being on a maximum-salary contract, Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tops the list from Frank Urbina of HoopsHype.

Thunder’s Mark Daigneault Wins Coaches Association Award

Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault has won the Michael H. Goldberg award for the 2023/24 season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who reports that Daigneault has been named the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year.

This award, introduced in 2017 and named after longtime NBCA executive director Michael H. Goldberg, is voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches, none of whom can vote for himself.

However, it isn’t the NBA’s official Coach of the Year award, which is voted on by media members and is represented by the Red Auerbach Trophy. The winner of that award will be announced later this spring.

J.B. Bickerstaff (Cavaliers), Chris Finch (Timberwolves), Joe Mazzulla (Celtics), and Jamahl Mosley (Magic) also received votes from their fellow coaches for this year’s NBCA award, per Wojnarowski.

Daigneault, who is just 39 years old, has overseen the rebuild in Oklahoma City since 2020. After winning just 22 games in his first year on the job, the Thunder increased that total to 24 in 2021/22, 40 in ’22/23, and 57 in ’23/24. That 57-25 record this season made the Thunder the improbable No. 1 seed in the West in their first trip to the playoffs during Daigneault’s tenure.

As Wojnarowski points out, Oklahoma City was one of just two NBA teams this season – along with Boston – to finish in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating. The Thunder’s 118.3 offensive rating ranked third in the NBA, while their 111.0 defensive rating was fourth.

The NBCA Coach of the Year award has frequently been a bellwether for the NBA’s Coach of the Year honor, which bodes well for Daigneault. In five of the seven years since the award’s inception, the winner has gone on to be named the NBA’s Coach of the Year.

Mazzulla, Udoka Named Coaches Of The Month

The Celtics Joe Mazzulla and the Rockets Ime Udoka were named the NBA’s Coaches of the Month for March, the league announced today (via Twitter).

Boston, which has clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference, finished 12-4 last month. Houston, which is battling for a play-in tournament berth in the West, posted a 13-2 record in March, winning 11 consecutive games at one point.

It’s a bit of an ironic twist, as Mazzulla was named Boston’s interim coach prior to last season after the team suspended Udoka for an improper relationship. Mazzulla eventually had the interim tag removed during last season, while Udoka ended up in Houston.

The Magic’s Jamahl Mosley and the Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau were the other Eastern Conference nominees. The Thunder’s Mark Daigneault, the Mavericks’ Jason Kidd and the Nuggets’ Michael Malone were the other Western Conference nominees (Twitter link).

Atlantic Notes: Robinson, Hartenstein, George, Quickley, Mazzulla

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson, who was rumored to be lost for the season after undergoing ankle surgery in December, was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, according to Stefan Bondy of The New York Post.

“It wasn’t an extended (practice) obviously. But he did shooting. He did offense, defense, script,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. Asked when Robinson might be approved for game action, Thibodeau responded, “He’s got to go through contact for a while. So then he’s got to get cleared by the doctor.”

Robinson has missed 47 games since being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left ankle. The Knicks applied for a $7.8MM disabled player exception, but that request was turned down in January because an independent physician wasn’t convinced that Robinson would be unavailable for the rest of the season.

Thibodeau said Isaiah Hartenstein will remain the starting center even when Robinson is cleared to return. Hartenstein is dealing with a sore Achilles and is currently playing under a minutes restriction.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Sixers will be an “eager” suitor for Paul George this summer if he can’t agree on an extension with the Clippers, Marc Stein writes in his latest Substack column (subscription required). League sources tell Stein that signing George would be an ideal way for Philadelphia to use its considerable cap space before giving a max extension to Tyrese Maxey. Kyle Neubeck of PHLY Sports (video link) also indicates that the Sixers are keeping their eyes on George, who has a $48.8MM player option for next season.
  • Immanuel Quickley is away from the Raptors on a personal/family matter and there’s no timetable for him to return, coach Darko Rajakovic told reporters before tonight’s game (Twitter link from Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports). Bruce Brown will handle the ball more often while Quickley is gone, Rajakovic added.
  • Eric Koreen and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic discuss whether the Raptors would be better off giving their first-round pick to San Antonio this year or waiting until 2025 or 2026. The pick is top-six protected, and Toronto is currently seventh in the reverse standings, a half-game away from sixth-place Memphis.
  • Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla tried to block a shot by Phoenix forward Royce O’Neale after a timeout last week, but he’s been instructed to retire the lighthearted gesture, relays Brian Robb of MassLive. “I’ve been told I can’t do that anymore,” Mazzulla said during an appearance on a radio show, but he declined to say who made that request.

Celtics Notes: Brown, Tatum, Walsh, Mazzulla

Celtics guard Jaylen Brown brings star power to tonight’s Slam Dunk Contest, which has featured mostly fringe players for the past decade, writes Souichi Terada of MassLive. Brown is hoping to restore some prestige to one of the signature events of All-Star Weekend, and he believes the time is right to make a statement.

“I’m in my athletic prime right now,” he told reporters. “I feel good. When it comes to dunking, I think it’s an art form. I think when it comes to dunking on somebody, I think I’m one of the best to ever do it. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s an extension the art form of dunking.”

Unlike his competitors — Jaime Jaquez of the Heat, Jacob Toppin of the Knicks and defending champion Mac McClung of the G League — Brown is one of the NBA’s elite players, and Terada points out that he’s the first All-Star to take part in the dunk contest since 2017. Terada notes that Brown has been talking frequently about the “art form” of dunking and has hinted that teammate Jayson Tatum may participate in one of the dunks he has planned.

“I think the art of dunking is dope — and it always has been,” Brown said. “From the early days to now. It sucks to see the abandonment of the dunk contest. I think it’s an art form. For me, it’s about the show, it’s about the lead-up, the build-up. I think the people will appreciate some of the stuff I’ll do tonight, once it gets slowed down. Once you see the replay.”

There’s more on the Celtics:

  • Speaking at All-Star media day, Tatum lobbied for a change to the league’s technical foul process, Terada adds in a separate story. “If you get a tech for overreacting to a call and you were right,” Tatum said. “If they go back and look, the coaches do the challenge and they overturn the call, that tech should be rescinded. You should get your money back. If you get a tech for overreacting to a call that was deemed incorrect or whatever, you should get your money back.”
  • Rookie forward Jordan Walsh saw the first meaningful minutes of his NBA career when he checked into Wednesday’s game late in the first quarter, per Brian Robb of MassLive. Robb observes that Walsh has been spending more time with the Celtics lately after playing primarily in the G League early in the season. “Since Christmas, he came on the West Coast trip with us, and we made a conscious effort to just have an understanding of defense is how you make it in this league as a young player,” coach Joe Mazzulla said. “What you do in the G League from a statistical standpoint is important, but it’s more important about your daily approach – your professionalism and your defense, and I think he’s just really, really grown in that area.”
  • Jared Weiss of The Athletic examined Mazzulla’s progress as a head coach after he picked up his 100th career win Wednesday night.

Doc Rivers To Coach In All-Star Game

Five days after returning to the NBA sidelines, Doc Rivers has clinched a spot as the Eastern Conference coach in the All-Star Game, the league announced (via Twitter).

Rivers and his staff wrapped up the honor tonight when the Bucks overcame a 25-point deficit to win in Dallas and the Knicks lost at home to the Lakers. That ensures Milwaukee will have the best record in the East on Sunday’s cutoff date among teams with eligible coaches. The Celtics lead the conference at 37-12, but Joe Mazzulla took part in the 2023 game and coaches aren’t permitted to participate in back-to-back years.

This will be the fourth All-Star Game for Rivers, who also coached in 2008, 2011 and 2021, but he was reluctant to accept it under the circumstances, according to Marc Stein (Twitter link). Stein said Rivers told him before tonight’s contest that he doesn’t think he deserves to take part after just three games with the Bucks, but the NBA overruled him. Rivers plans to give his All-Star ring and bonus to former Bucks coach Adrian Griffin, who was fired on January 23, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

After picking up his first win with Milwaukee tonight, Rivers commented on the All-Star situation, saying, “That is so ridiculously bad.” He also joked about sending his coaching staff to the game and going on vacation (video link).

This year’s game will take place February 18 in Indianapolis. The format is reverting to an East-West matchup after six years of having team captains select the rosters.

Celtics Notes: Udoka, Mazzulla, Tatum, Kornet

Meeting with reporters in his return to Boston tonight, Rockets coach Ime Udoka expressed regret that he wasn’t able to stay with the Celtics long enough to lead them to a championship, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Udoka took Boston to the NBA Finals in 2022, but he was suspended shortly before the start of last season over an affair with a staff member. Joe Mazzulla was named the team’s permanent head coach before the season ended.

“Job not finished,” Udoka responded when asked to look back on his lone season with the Celtics. “[I] formed a lot of relationships within a year, and obviously want to get a chance to run it back with a group you feel you can build and grow with. So, letting the people down. I talked about the players, the relationships I built with them, the coaches that came with me, and then everybody else that was impacted by it. So for me that’s the biggest thing I would say overall is letting some people down, for sure. But we’ve talked it out and I’ve seen a lot of these people throughout the summer and talk regularly and so we move past it.”

Udoka received a mixed response from fans at TD Garden, according to Bontemps. The game marked the first matchup between Udoka and Mazzulla, his former assistant, but Bontemps says both coaches downplayed its significance.

“Obviously, the fact that Ime is back, that’s great,” Mazzulla said. “We worked together, and guys on the staff, but I don’t think that really has anything to do with winning or losing.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • Some Celtics players complained last season that they were kept in the dark about the reasons for Udoka’s suspension and dismissal, but Udoka contends that’s not accurate, according to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. Udoka told reporters he was “upfront” with his players and explained the situation to some of them. “I would say they lied to [the media],” Udoka said. “They knew, some of them knew and, you know, obviously I could talk to them and they wouldn’t share stuff publicly. So, who needed to know, knew.”
  • Jayson Tatum got ejected early in the fourth quarter tonight even though the Celtics had a huge lead at the time, per Souichi Terada of MassLive. Tatum was angry after not getting a foul call on a dunk attempt. “At some point throughout the course of the night, you’ve got to stand up for yourself,” he explained. “It’s not an every game thing or every night, but I’m not perfect. I’m going to get techs throughout every season. Tonight I just had to kind of let him know how I felt and that was that. I wasn’t holding no grudge or anything after the game. I wasn’t kicking (expletive) over in the locker room. I’m not holding no grudge. It happened, we move on, and we get ready for the next one.”
  • Luke Kornet is in front of Neemias Queta on the depth chart because Mazzulla has more trust in Kornet’s defense, Brian Robb of MassLive states in a mailbag column.

Joe Mazzulla, Tyronn Lue Named Coaches Of The Month

Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla and Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue have been named the Coaches of the Month for December, the NBA announced (via Twitter).

Mazzulla, the Eastern Conference winner, led Boston to a 12-2 record last month. The Celtics have the best record in the NBA at 26-7.

While Mazzulla’s group has looked like a championship contender throughout its first 33 games, Lue’s Clippers had a rocky start after trading for James Harden, losing six straight at one point to hold a 3-7 record.

But L.A. has had an impressive turnaround over the past several weeks, going 18-5 over the past 23 games, including an 11-2 record in December. Harden shook off some early rust and has been playing at an extremely high level of late (20.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 9.4 APG, 1.4 SPG and 1.2 BPG on .483/.467/.883 shooting over the past 17 contests), and Kawhi Leonard has been dominant on both ends of the court.

According to the NBA (Twitter link), the other nominees in the Eastern Conference were J.B. Bickerstaff, Adrian Griffin, Nick Nurse and Erik Spoelstra, while Mark Daigneault, Chris Finch and Michael Malone were nominated in the West.

Eastern Notes: Heat, Embiid, Haslem, Mazzulla

The Heat will play on Christmas Day for the 14th time in franchise history when they match up with Philadelphia. Coach Erik Spoelstra says he doesn’t mind playing on the holiday and considers it a badge of honor, Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald writes.

“I always mention it to our locker room that it is an honor to have that opportunity to play on Christmas,” he said. “The whole league doesn’t play on the holiday. There were several years in a row, where we were never considered for playing on Christmas. Then you go back before, you almost took it for granted that we were always going to play on Christmas. So I don’t want any of our guys to [take it for granted], and I know they don’t.”

We have more on the Eastern Conference:

  • Some of the intrigue in the matchup between the Sixers and Heat will be removed, due to Joel Embiid‘s absence. The Sixers’ superstar didn’t make the trip to Miami because of an ankle injury, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps reports. Embiid suffered the injury in Friday night’s win over the Raptors when he landed awkwardly trying to block a shot midway through the first quarter. He finished the game with 31 points and 10 rebounds. Philadelphia plays Wednesday in Orlando, and the team said the big man’s status for that game has yet to be determined.
  • The Heat will retire Udonis Haslem’s No. 40 jersey in a ceremony on January 19 during halftime of their game against the Hawks, the team announced in a press release. Haslem will become the sixth Heat player to have his jersey retired, joining Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
  • Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla feels more at ease with his media responsibilities this season, he told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe.  He struggled with that aspect of his job last season when he was thrust unexpectedly into the head coaching position. “I never want to be a distraction to the players and organization. So I’m learning how to be emotionally open,” he said. “I’m going to argue with you from time to time. It doesn’t mean I don’t like you or agree with what you’re saying. And, jokingly, I can’t understand why people give two [expletives] about me. I just don’t understand that. But they don’t care about me; they care about the role of the head coach of the Boston Celtics. So once I realized that I was like, ‘OK.’”

Atlantic Notes: Porzingis, Mazzulla, Thomas, Barrett

Kristaps Porzingis has already been ruled out of Monday’s in-season tournament quarterfinal at Indiana, but the Celtics are optimistic he’ll return to action this week, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (via Twitter).

According to Woj, there’s “increasing confidence” that Porzingis will be available for the semifinal against either Milwaukee or New York if Boston advances past the Pacers. That would take place on Thursday if the Celtics win tonight, but if they lose and are eliminated, their next game would be a normal regular season contest on Friday.

Here’s more from the Atlantic:

  • Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla has ruffled some feathers amongst rival teams this season with some of his decisions, including intentionally fouling Bulls center Andre Drummond in the fourth quarter of a blowout victory last week when Boston was trying to secure a berth in the quarterfinal via point differential. Mazzulla says he’s not worried about being friendly with opposing coaches, per Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe (subscriber link). “How do I say this nicely? I don’t care,” he said. “But I also have respect for people. Like I learn from every coach, I think they’re a lot of great coaches in the league. I’ve studied what other teams do. But as far as having an off-court relationship with a coach? I don’t. That’s like last on the list.”
  • Nets guard Cam Thomas shot just 7-of-23 from the floor in Saturday’s victory over Orlando, which snapped the Magic’s nine-game winning streak. However, as Brian Lewis of The New York Post writes, Thomas contributed in other ways in his second game back from an ankle injury, drawing double-teams while recording seven rebounds and a season-high five assists. “Look at the passes that he threw. He can play-make. He’s more than a scorer,” said head coach Jacque Vaughn. “He’s really taken a step on the defensive end of the floor, which makes me extremely happy as a coach that he wants to defend. He’s gotten better at defending.” Vaughn also praised Thomas’ preparation and ability to draw fouls.
  • Knicks forward RJ Barrett had a strong start to the 2023/24 season interrupted by migraines, which caused him to miss three games, and he’s still trying to regain his prior form, writes Zach Braziller of The New York Post. The 23-year-old is shooting just 34.4% from the field and 25.0% from long distance over the past seven games. “Having a week where you don’t play, it’s not ideal,” Barrett said. “But at the end of the day, I’ve also had a [few] weeks where I’ve been playing. No excuses; I’m kind of getting back to it.”