Joe Mazzulla

Jayson Tatum Wants To Be On Celtics’ “Mount Rushmore”

In an interview with Jeff Goodman of The Messenger, Jayson Tatum talks about his desire to add his name to the long list of Celtics legends.

Tatum is off to a strong start, with nearly 10,000 career points, four All-Star appearances and several long playoff runs by age 25. But he understands that being an all-time great in Boston requires championship banners, and he hopes to win a few of those before he’s done.

“I would love to be on the Mount Rushmore of Celtics,” Tatum says.(Larry) Bird, (Bill) Russell, Paul Pierce and those guys. They paved the way. The one thing all those guys have is chips. I have to get to the top of the mountain to even be considered as one of those guys. I want to be an all-time great, I want to be known as a winner, and I believe I will be.”

A year ago, the Celtics appeared to be in a strong position to win their 18th title as they prepared to report to training camp. They were coming off a tough Finals loss to the Warriors and had added Danilo Gallinari to an already impressive roster.

Things began to unravel when head coach Ime Udoka was suspended on September 22. Gallinari suffered an ACL tear that wound up sidelining him for the entire season, and an injury kept Robert Williams out for the early part of the year.

“It was a lot, a lot to process and deal with,” Tatum said. “And I give us credit, we came together. I think it brought us together as a team. We had the second-best record. We could have had every excuse to start off slow and make excuses.”

Tatum touches on several other topics in the lengthy interview:

On head coach Joe Mazzulla, who was frequently the target of criticism, especially as Boston fell behind 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals:

“I think it was unfair. I don’t know what more Joe could have done. He wasn’t out there turning the ball over and missing free throws. That was us.”

On the loss of Marcus Smart, who was sent to Memphis in the Kristaps Porzingis trade and had been the team leader since Tatum arrived in 2017:

“I am for sure going to miss Smart. He was my teammate for six years and we’ve been through it all. We had good moments together, we had bad moments together. He’s somebody that I wish was going be my teammate forever.”

On the record-setting five-year, super-max extension that Jaylen Brown received this summer:

“I was excited for Jaylen, and I wasn’t surprised. That was a no-brainer for me because he deserves it. He had a hell of a year, the best year of his career, and he was rewarded for that. It was the right time. People make a big deal of $300 million. The NBA makes a lot of money. Contracts will be $350 and then $370 million. That’s the way it’s going. I was happy for him. I knew it was going to happen, it was a no-brainer, but I still reached out to him and told him he should be proud of himself and his family. Don’t take it for granted. This is generational.”

On his own NBA future and whether he wants to spend his entire career with one team:

“Just recently I started to feel the connection with Boston. I have spent my adult life here, my son has grown up here, I’ve grown up here. I’ve accomplished so many things. … You never know what can happen, but I love playing for the Celtics. I figured out my space in the city and have grown to really enjoy it. I love the fans. It would be really hard to leave this place.”

Celtics Notes: Griffin, Porzingis, Tatum, Mazzulla

Blake Griffin doesn’t have a team for the upcoming season, but he would love to return to the Celtics if the opportunity arises. Appearing on the Barstool Sports podcast (hat tip to ClutchPoints), Griffin called playing in Boston “one of the best experiences” and had plenty of good things to say about his teammates.

“The players on that team are just like such a great group of guys,” Griffin said. “Like a guy like Jayson Tatum, he’s a legit superstar. And he’s just so humble and talks to everybody on the team and talks to the whole staff.”

Griffin signed with the Celtics shortly before the start of last season and averaged 4.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 41 games. Boston has open roster spots, and a recent report suggested there’s interest in bringing Griffin back. But the Celtics also have workouts scheduled with T.J. WarrenLamar Stevens and Louis King, so they’re exploring their options.

There’s more from Boston:

  • Kristaps Porzingis can’t play in the World Cup because of plantar fasciitis, but he’ll travel to Indonesia to support his Latvian teammates, according to Eurohoops. “I said being around is important, even though I’m not playing,” Porzingis explained in an interview with Sporta Studija. “They supported my decision. Also, there’s a long season ahead. It’s important for me to spend time with my teammates, with my family, and Boston respected my decision.”
  • Tatum is sharpening his game this summer with help from former Celtics star Paul Pierce, per Brian Robb of MassLive. The Hall of Famer attended some of Tatum’s workouts in Los Angeles with trainer Drew Hanlan. “Watching JT sharpen those tools, seeing what greatness looks like,” Pierce said in an Instagram video.
  • In an interview with Michael Eaves of ESPN (video link), Joe Mazzulla explains how studying jiu-jitsu has made him a better coach. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done,” Mazzulla said. “What the art really gives is the study of transitions, and that really helps me because in a game and in a season, there’s transitions and decision making. You’re actually learning how not to fight. You’re learning how to handle situations. You’re learning how to problem solve.”

Wyc Grousbeck Explains Celtics’ Decision To Shake Up Roster

The Celtics reached the NBA Finals in 2022 and fell one game short of returning last season, but management decided changes were needed after the playoff loss to the Heat, co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said in an interview with Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe.

Grousbeck characterized the last two seasons as “missed opportunities,” even though he admitted his team lost to two good opponents. Following the playoffs, he had a meeting with president of basketball operations Brad Stevens and head coach Joe Mazzulla in which they decided to explore chances to revamp the roster. That led to a three-team trade in late June that brought Kristaps Porzingis to Boston.

“The general tone was, how do we take this energy we’re feeling right now that was built up over having two good seasons, but then didn’t get all the way,” Grousbeck said. “The whole point is, how do we get to banner 18? If we’d all agreed we should keep things the same, that would have been fine. But the idea of bringing in another talented big popped up early in the conversation, and we ended up executing on that idea.”

They decided to focus on Porzingis, who was facing a decision on a $36MM player option after a productive season with the Wizards. Porzingis had other interested teams if he had opted for free agency, but Grousbeck said he was eager to join the Celtics.

“He is a committed and now seasoned and effective player. He’s a real force. I’m really impressed with his commitment to being part of a winning Celtics team,” Grousbeck said. “I met with him when he came up for the press conference and spent some real time with him, and he’s so happy to be here. He’s so ready to shine at this stage of his career. But he sees a team concept, not the KP show. He’s continually improved over his career, and he thinks this is his prime. But he’s about the team, his teammates and the banner. He chose us. There were other people, I hear, that wanted him. And he chose us. He wants to be here and he wants to win a ring.”

Grousbeck covers several other topics in the interview, including:

The commitment to Mazzulla, who faced criticism in the playoffs in his first year running the team:

“If Joe had done a poor job, I would have thought about replacing him, but he did a very good job. He took us within one game of the best record in the league and then one game of being in the Finals, as a rookie coach. So I’m comfortable and happy to have Joe as head coach.”

The Celtics’ willingness to spend despite restrictions in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement:

“The league doesn’t allow us to comment on the details of the CBA, but having said that, we’re obviously all in, with the record contract for Jaylen (Brown) and with our payroll this year and in coming years. Eventually, there are basketball penalties for spending, so that will go into the thought process down the road. But at the moment, the best basketball thing we can do is what we’re doing.”

Heading into the future with Brown and Jayson Tatum as franchise cornerstones:

“They’re the best two people I could imagine building a team around. We’ve had them since the beginning. We’ve been very lucky to have them here for their whole careers, and we’re building the team around them. But you add the next eight guys to the list. You take our top 10 and we’ve got a really good team. The focus is naturally on those two because they’re All-NBA players and All-Stars, but I like the whole roster.”

Celtics Notes: Cassell, Lee, Mazzulla, Brown

Sam Cassell was the perfect choice to fill the role of lead assistant to Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, writes Jared Weiss of The Athletic. Cassell held the same position on Doc Rivers’ staff with the Sixers and was universally liked throughout the organization, Weiss adds.

After losing Damon Stoudamire to Georgia Tech in March, Boston needed an ex-player on its bench who could relate to the team’s stars as well as those who rarely play, Weiss notes. He states that Cassell was responsible for keeping James Harden focused in Philadelphia and helped to develop Tyrese Maxey.

The Celtics have a lot of open spots to fill on the coaching staff, especially if Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser, Garrett Jackson and possibly Aaron Miles are joining Ime Udoka in Houston, as rumored. Weiss suggests that Boston might consider other Sixers coaches such as Dave Joerger, Dan Burke and Jamie Young, who spent several years with the Celtics as an assistant to Rivers and Brad Stevens, along with Jerome Allen, who coached under Dwane Casey with the Pistons.

There’s more from Boston:

  • Charles Lee, who was one of the finalists for Detroit’s head coaching job, is under consideration to join the Celtics as an assistant, tweets Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. However, Lee “remains involved in several situations,” Fischer adds.
  • Former Celtics boss and current Jazz CEO Danny Ainge is a strong supporter of Mazzulla after watching his first year as a head coach, per Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe. Ainge says the players never quit on Mazzulla, despite accusations after Game 3 of the conference finals, and he adapted and learned as he made his way through the playoffs. “You see Joe’s toughness and stubbornness,” Ainge said. “He’s a relentless worker. He has a passion to learn. Joe is a leader, and I think this was a difficult situation with the high expectations the team had coming in. I don’t think there’s anybody there that doesn’t believe that Joe is better than Ime (Udoka) as a coach.”
  • Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com talks to several rival executives and coaches who believe the Celtics should keep Jaylen Brown and re-sign Grant Williams. “I hear fans up there are debating whether to give Brown the super-max, but at some point the numbers don’t really matter,” one general manager said. “First of all, the guy is one of the better players in the league. Start there. I know people are all upset about his last game, and sure he was bad, but that was a team-wide collapse. Just take a step back and look at where he is and what he can do. The guy can play.”

Sam Cassell To Join Joe Mazzulla’s Staff

Sam Cassell is joining the Celtics as an assistant coach under Joe Mazzulla, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

The longtime NBA guard spent the past three seasons as a lead assistant for the Sixers under Doc Rivers.

Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens ended speculation after the Eastern Conference Finals when he stated that Mazzulla would remain the head coach. However, changes were anticipated to surround Mazzulla with more experienced staff.

Cassell interviewed with the Rockets this spring for the head coaching job that went to Ime Udoka. Temple University was said to be interested in hiring Cassell as its head coach in March, but he decided to stay in the NBA. He also interviewed last year for the Jazz head coaching job.

Before his stint in Philadelphia, Cassell served as an assistant with the Wizards and Clippers. He has a history in Boston, as he was on the Celtics’ roster in 2008 when they won the championship during the twilight of his playing career.

Joe Mazzulla To Remain Celtics’ Head Coach

Joe Mazzulla will return as the Celtics’ head coach, president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said in a press conference on Thursday, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe tweets.

Mazzulla was thrust into the head coaching job just as the season was set to begin when Ime Udoka was suspended by the team for the season. Mazzulla eventually had the interim tag removed and received an extension in mid-season.

Questions about Mazzulla’s status arose as the Celtics fell behind 3-0 in the best-of-seven series to underdog Miami in the conference finals. Boston rallied to tie the series but played poorly in Game 7 after Jayson Tatum suffered a first-quarter injury and got eliminated on its home floor.

Stevens believes that Mazzulla will benefit from having been thrown into the fire this past season, Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston tweets.

“Joe’s experience now, you could probably measure in dog years, right? Because he’s now been in three Eastern Conference finals and a Finals,” said Stevens, referring to Mazzulla’s stint as an assistant as well as this season. “Now he’s been the head coach throughout one of those runs, I mean that’s an experience in and of itself.”

Stevens believes Mazzulla has the leadership qualities to be a head coach for many seasons, Jared Weiss of The Athletic tweets.

“He’s a terrific leader,” he said. “He’ll only get better at anything that he can learn from this year cause he’s constantly trying to learn and he’s accountable. Those leadership qualities are hard to find.”

Mazzulla will have some different voices on the staff, according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated (Twitter link). The staff is expected to be overhauled, with former Rockets coach Stephen Silas a leading candidate to be one of those additions.

Atlantic Notes: Knicks, Maxey, Ujiri, Mazzulla

With general manager Scott Perry set to leave the Knicks later this summer, his replacement will likely come from within the organization if the position is filled at all, writes Steve Popper of Newsday. Popper states that the team already has the structure in place to handle Perry’s job duties, and his role has been diminishing for more than a year.

Senior basketball consultant Gersson Rosas could be named the new GM if ownership wants to appoint someone, Popper adds. Rosas spent 16 years in the Rockets’ front office, followed by shorter stays as general manager of the Mavericks and president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves. He served as the primary contact as the Knicks negotiated a Donovan Mitchell trade with the Jazz last summer, according to Popper.

Perry’s contract is believed to run through August, but sources tell Popper that he’s already being left out of pre-draft workouts. Perry’s duties are being handled by assistant GMs Frank Zanin, who’s in charge of pro scouting, and Walt Perrin, who handles college scouting. Rosas is performing most of the GM work, so Popper believes giving him the title would just be “a formality.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Knicks are in position to benefit from not paying a premium price to acquire Mitchell, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst states on his Hoop Collective podcast (video link). Windhorst notes that New York has the trade assets to pursue any star who becomes available this offseason, with a parcel of future draft picks and Evan Fournier‘s contract for salary-matching purposes.
  • Reaching an extension with Tyrese Maxey should be a priority for the Sixers this summer, contends Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He notes that Maxey has been a bargain after being selected with the 21st pick and states that the Sixers shouldn’t gamble by letting him reach restricted free agency in 2024. Maxey is eligible for a five-year deal worth up to a projected $213MM.
  • Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic is still in the mix to be the Raptors‘ next head coach, tweets Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. Rajakovic has been an assistant since 2014 and spent time with the Thunder and Suns as well.
  • Raptors executive Masai Ujiri remains passionate about winning 10 years after joining the organization, per Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Smith also looks at Ujiri’s five best and worst moves over the past decade.
  • Joe Mazzulla appears likely to return for another season as the Celtics‘ head coach, tweets Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe.

Celtics Notes: Mazzulla, Brown, Brogdon, G. Williams

Joe Mazzulla‘s ascension to head coach after Ime Udoka’s suspension led to disagreements between the coaching staff and several of the Celtics‘ stars over the team’s style of play, according to Jay King and Jared Weiss of The Athletic. Boston was coming off an NBA Finals run under Udoka built around a suffocating defense, and many players wanted to continue that philosophy. Mazzulla placed more emphasis on the offense and frequently relied on smaller lineups, using Derrick White as a starter even when Robert Williams was healthy.

Although Mazzulla generally had the support of his players, who recognized that he was in a difficult situation, one source tells the authors that the team “just lost focus” after the All-Star Game, going 7-6 in its first 13 games following the break. Some veterans wondered why Mazzulla went away from Grant Williams, whose playing time was cut in March. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown met with Mazzulla to implore him to put Grant Williams back in the rotation, sources tell King and Weiss.

Complaints about Mazzulla’s emphasis on offense continued into the playoffs, the authors add. Some players said they left timeouts unsure of the defensive coverages, and that Blake Griffin, Marcus Smart, Grant Williams and others would work things out at the last minute.

Even amid the chaos, players publicly remained supportive of Mazzulla after the Game 7 loss to Miami.

“I don’t think people give (Mazzulla) or us enough credit that, two days before (the) season starts, we find out we’re going to have a new coach,” Tatum said. “We didn’t have Rob the first 25, 30 games of the season, we never got a chance to have (Danilo Gallinari), and we got a new coach one day before media day. You know, that was an adjustment. We all figured it out. Obviously, we wanted to win the championship. Didn’t happen. But I think Joe did a great job. We won 50-some-odd games. We got to (Game 7 of the) conference finals. Obviously, everybody can be better, learn from this. But I think Joe did a great job this year.”

There’s more on the Celtics:

  • Among the reasons Mazzulla is likely to return as head coach next season is his contract, which still has $14MM remaining in guaranteed money, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic. Charania expects Mazzulla to be given the chance to build his coaching staff this summer.
  • Brown didn’t talk much about his future after Game 7, but Tatum said it’s “extremely important” that he remains on the team, per Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston. There has been speculation that the Celtics may explore trade options after Brown qualified for a super-max contract by earning All-NBA honors. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on his Hoop Collective podcast that he would be “stunned” if Boston doesn’t reach a new agreement with Brown (hat tip to Joseph Zucker of Bleacher Report).
  • Either White, Smart or Malcolm Brogdon is likely to be moved this offseason to ease the financial crunch, writes Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston, who believes Brogdon could be the top trade asset despite his large salary. That savings could be used to keep Grant Williams, a restricted free agent, Forsberg adds.

Celtics Notes: Brown, Tatum, Game 3 Reaction, Brogdon

Jaylen Brown wore an ice pack on his left wrist during an interview with Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston (video link), but he said he doesn’t want to focus on injuries with the Celtics‘ season on the line.

Brown hasn’t commented on the status of his wrist, but it’s believed that he hurt it on a hard fall during the second-round series against Philadelphia. He has also dealt with a facial fracture and a tweaked knee this season, and the combination of all that damage may be affecting his play in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“At this point in the year, everybody got injuries,” Brown said. “I got injuries all over, compiled. But I’ll never let that be an excuse. You’ll never hear reports about me coming out, saying if anything is bothering me. You come out, you play basketball, you leave it all out there on the floor.”

There’s more on the Celtics:

  • Pre-game nerves may be an issue for many players tonight with so much at stake, but it’s a constant condition for Jayson Tatum, writes Souichi Terada of MassLive. Tatum admits that he’s always edgy heading into tip-off, regardless of the setting or the opponent. “I get nervous before every game,” he said. “Not like scared but a healthy level of anxiousness. First game of the season against Philly to now, I get nerves before every game.”
  • The Celtics appear to have been galvanized by the reaction to their embarrassing loss in Game 3, according to Tara Sullivan of The Boston Globe. That 26-point defeat on Sunday led several national media members to proclaim that the team quit and resulted in speculation that coach Joe Mazzulla might be dismissed after the series. “That locker room after Game 3 was the lowest you could be, and I think everyone just relaxed, honestly,” Tatum said. After two wins, Celtics players now believe the pressure has shifted to the Heat, who face the specter of being the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-0 lead, Sullivan adds.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, who’s listed as questionable for Game 6 with a right forearm strain, will go through pre-game warm-ups to see if he is able to play, tweets Jared Weiss of The Athletic. “He’s gonna warm up, do his shooting time and see how he feels from there,” Mazzulla told reporters.

Coaching Rumors: Williams, Pistons, Young, Bucks, Griffin, Mazzulla

After reporting last week that the Pistons had planned to pursue Monty Williams for their head coaching job if they’d won the draft lottery, Marc Stein writes at Substack that Detroit apparently went ahead with that plan even after slipping to No. 5 on lottery night.

League sources tell Stein that the Pistons made Williams a “big-money” offer to become the team’s new head coach. However, it appears that effort was unsuccessful. As we noted on Tuesday in response to a report that Williams might take the 2023/24 season off, he’s still reportedly owed about $21MM from Phoenix, so it’s not as if he needs another job anytime soon for financial reasons.

With Williams apparently not in play, the Pistons continue to decide between Kevin Ollie, Charles Lee, and Jarron Collins, who are reportedly meeting with team owner Tom Gores for a second time. As Stein writes, the “consistent buzz” in coaching circles is that general manager Troy Weaver prefers Ollie for the position.

Here’s more from Stein on the head coaching vacancies around the NBA:

  • While he lacks the head coaching experience that some of the Sunsother finalists possess, assistant coach Kevin Young has a legitimate chance to be promoted to succeed Williams, according to Stein, who hears that Young has received a “strong endorsement” from All-Star guard Devin Booker.
  • Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is expected to talk to the team’s head coaching finalists, is said to be “intrigued” by Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin, Stein writes. Griffin is one of three candidates believed to be in the running for the job.
  • Even before the Celtics won Game 4 of their series vs. Miami on Tuesday, there was push-back against the idea that Joe Mazzulla‘s job as head coach was in real jeopardy, says Stein. While Stein isn’t entirely ruling out the idea that Mazzulla could be replaced this spring, he suggests it would conflict with what we know about president of basketball operations Brad Stevens and how he operates.