How Boston Celtics Head Coach Joe Mazzulla Earned His Title And Extension

Was there any question to how Joe Mazzulla would respond to the removal of the “interim” tag? Right before the All-Star break, the Boston Celtics announced that Mazzulla—who led them to the best record in the NBA—was now the team’s official head coach. With a long-term extension now in place, the Celtics’ immediate future was in his hands.

As fans have come to expect, Mazzulla wasn’t phased at all by the change in circumstances. First, he led the Celtics to a hard-fought overtime win over the Indiana Pacers in their first game after the break. Then, facing a formidable Philadelphia 76ers team on Saturday, the Celtics won thanks to a last-minute Jayson Tatum three-pointer. With Mazzulla officially running the show, the Celtics are now 2-0 and remaining a half-game above the Milwaukee Bucks in the battle of the Eastern Conference.

All Mazzulla has done since the out-of-nowhere Ime Udoka suspension was face overwhelming expectations and quietly meet them with barely any public controversy. It’s obvious why Boston no longer could put off the inevitable and installed him as the permanent head coach before the stretch run heading into the playoffs: there’s literally nothing more that they could ask him to prove.

Now, in his first full season in charge of a team, there are things that Mazzulla could improve. Writing for the Boston Globe, Chad Finn points out the two more prominent charges against him: he’s a little too conservative about calling timeouts and he’s been playing his starters, notably Tatum, just a little bit too long. True to form, he even played Tatum for 35 minutes during the All-Star Game, in a successful attempt to help him score an NBA record 55 points in the exhibition.

These, of course, are minor quibbles. Now, Mazzulla would be the first to credit his success to the talent on his roster, but the Brooklyn Nets have already shown that that alone is not always enough. The Celtics truly came together as a team under Mazzulla’s predecessor, so when they suspended Udoka it could have easily thrown a monkey wrench into the rapidly approaching 2022-23 season.

Instead, Mazzulla not only kept order he helped integrate the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Blake Griffin and now Mike Muscala into the lineup. He’s been a force of both continuity and change during a season where the Celtics look to be significantly improved from even the squad that just made the NBA Finals.

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With Mazzulla now installed as permanent head coach, or as permanent as things get in the NBA, the Udoka era officially comes to an end. The moment Boston handed him his year-long suspension, it was obvious that his time with the team was over so this should surprise nobody. Now that the team has presumably come to final terms with their former head coach, Udoka is officially on the market.

One imagines that we will see him coaching in this league again. Could the team one day rue losing Udoka if he goes to another team and leads them to a championship?

It’s not an impossible hypothetical, the league has given us stranger stories, but whatever happened between him and the Celtics was serious enough that the team felt they had no choice in the matter. Without specific details, it’s really impossible for us to judge how the Celtics have handled the scandal from start to finish.

Maybe it’s a moot point going forward. With the team thriving under his successor’s leadership, there was no reason at all to keep Udoka as a potential fallback plan. Mazzulla has officially done all that he could possibly do to earn the right to have full official control of this Celtics squad.