Former Boston Celtics executive Danny Ainge, who currently works for the Utah Jazz, defended Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla after the team was eliminated from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Miami Heat.
Mazzulla, who took over as the team’s head coach in the 2022-23 season after Ime Udoka was suspended by the franchise, led Boston to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The team fell down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it battled back to force a Game 7.
Ainge seems to believe that Mazzulla is a better coach than Udoka, who is now the new head coach for the Houston Rockets.
“You see Joe’s toughness and stubbornness,” Ainge told the Boston Globe‘s Dan Shaughnessy. “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 as a coach.”
Mazzulla was thrust into a difficult situation, as Udoka was suspended during the offseason for multiple violations of team policies, including sexual misconduct.
This came after Udoka and the Celtics reached the NBA Finals in the 2021-22 season, although the team lost to the Golden State Warriors in that series.
That put some major expectations on Mazzulla, a first-year head coach who didn’t even have the interim tag removed until halfway through the 2022-23 season.
Still, the Celtics were one of the best teams in the NBA this regular season. The team did come up short in Game 7 against Miami, but star Jayson Tatum injured his ankle early in the game and was limited throughout. He finished Game 7 with just 14 points and took only 13 shots in the loss.
It seems like Ainge believes in Mazzulla’s future as a head coach and thinks Boston should keep him as the team’s leader for the 2023-24 season.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Mazzulla has multiple seasons left on his contract with the team.
“According to league sources, Mazzulla has $14 million guaranteed on his deal, which spans over the next three years,” Charania wrote.
Boston has a lot of decisions to make this coming offseason, as Jaylen Brown is eligible for a contract extension and Grant Williams is set to become a free agent. The team is clearly one of the better squads in the league, and Ainge certainly believes that Mazzulla is the right man to lead the Celtics back to the NBA Finals.