Since taking the reigns as the head coach of the Boston Celtics, Joe Mazzulla has split opinions among the fanbase. A first-time head coach with a distinctive analytical approach to the game, “Mazzulla ball” has been both entertaining and frustrating in equal measure. Last season, the rookie coach struggled with his new role, or at least the external factors that came with the job.
A major gripe amongst fans was how combative Mazzulla appeared to be during press conferences. Short answers. Sarcastic retorts. And sometimes, contentious remarks were all part of the inaugural Mazzulla experience. However, after a summer of reflection, the head coach has understood what led him to be that way, and looks to be far more relaxed in his role this season.
“By far, the biggest adjustment was that people gave a s— who you were,” Mazzulla told JJ Redick on a recent episode of “The Old Man and the Three” podcast. “I just couldn’t understand why that was something...I get that now. I understand that it does come with a different type of platform...The hardest adjustment was I’m an emotionally guarded person; I’m an introvert...Then I go from just hanging around the facility to running the facility. I wasn’t quite ready to let myself go emotionally.”
Mike Gorman has seen his fair share of Celtics coaches come and go. Heck, he’s seen almost everything in his 43-year tenure calling the games. In a recent appearance on the “Green With Envy” podcast, the veteran announcer detailed the growth he’s seen in Mazzulla this season.
“He was never comfortable last year with the role of being the coach,” Gorman said. “He wanted to be the coach, and he was comfortable at practice, and he was comfortable in games, but he wasn’t comfortable outside when he was walking down the street and someone was going to call him 'Coach.' He didn’t want that. And so, he internalized everything...So I would tell you that he’s come 180 degrees in terms of personality. I think now he’s comfortable with who he is and where he’s going. And he understands that he’s going to win some, he’s going to lose some, but he’s going to be in them. They don’t get blown out very much.”
Since taking over as the Celtics head coach, Mazzulla has amassed a winning record of 72-30 in the regular season. He also took the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals. For his detractors, Mazzulla fell short of his predecessor, Ime Udoka. Yet, in truth, he navigated an incredibly difficult situation and implemented an entire offensive structure with very little preparation time.
Mazzulla was also put into a position where he was now overseeing staff he had previously worked alongside, some of whom were more senior than him in seasons past. There were bound to be some stumbles, and a learning curve was inevitable.
This season, Brad Stevens has armed Mazzulla with an elite roster and his own coaching staff. Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday were acquired during the off-season. Charles Lee and Sam Cassell joined as assistants.
Boston’s top-6 rotation is arguably the most talented in the NBA. However, Gorman sees Porzingis as being the real swing factor for the Celtics.
“I don’t think we win a championship without Porzingis. He’s the missing piece to get you from second or third to first.”
However, having such a deep and talented roster is a blessing and a curse. Win, and it was because of the talent at your disposal. If you fall short, the blame lands squarely on your shoulders. Such is life as an NBA head coach, especially one who is leading the Boston Celtics after a major summer re-shuffle.
Nevertheless, Gorman can envision a long tenure for Mazzulla.
“I think he’s the coach of the Celtics for the next 20 years. I think he is. He was a guy like me, in a way. He’s in the right place, the right time, and he got an opportunity.”
Whether Mazzulla can carve out a legendary career for himself with the Celtics will remain to be seen. Right now, his sole focus will be on preparing his roster for the remainder of the season, elevating their offensive and defensive execution, and being ready for another deep playoff run. A run that will also spell the end of Gorman’s tenure with the Celtics.
The Hall of Fame announcer will be retiring at the end of the season. So, if the Celtics needed any more motivation to go out and secure Banner 18, they should look no further than the man calling their home games — the same man who’s been calling the games for as long as we can remember. There would be no better send-off.
You can listen to the full interview with Gorman by clicking on the embedded link above or tuning in on either Apple or Spotify. You can also join in with the conversation and keep up-to-date with the show by joining the Discord channel.