Boston Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla Opens Up About His Players’ Reactions to Ime Udoka Possibly Joining the Nets
Veteran guard Marcus Smart didn’t appear too happy with the news. The Boston Celtics appear content to let suspended coach Ime Udoka walk from his season-long suspension and head over to coach the rival Brooklyn Nets — without receiving compensation.
When that news broke earlier in the week, Smart said it “didn’t make sense,” and he believed Udoka would eventually come back and coach the team. Recently, interim Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, who was an assistant under Udoka, spoke about his players’ feelings on the matter.
Joe Mazzulla has his hands full with the Boston Celtics
Mazzulla appears to be in a good spot with the Celtics. The 34-year-old coach inherited a young, talented team that’s fresh off its first berth in the NBA Finals since 2010.
With that comes expectations. With expectations come pressure. Couple that with coaching in a media market like Boston, and Mazzulla has his hands full. The Celtics, however, have faith in their new coach, who knows his talented team isn’t just going to roll out of bed and win games.
It seemed that might be the case when they opened the season with three straight wins. Even after the 3-0 start, Mazzulla had to take charge and tell his players they couldn’t be satisfied.
“We can’t create this expectation that things are always going to go our way and that we’re always going to feel comfortable,” Mazzulla said, per Sports Illustrated. “It’s not going to be that way.”
He was right.
The Celtics have gone 1-3 in their next four games and sit at 4-3 heading into Friday’s game against the Chicago Bulls. Now, with the news breaking that Udoka appears to be at the top of the list of coaches to replace Steve Nash in Brooklyn, Mazzulla has to deal with some added off-the-court drama.
Mazzulla says he’s not in a tough spot
When reports broke that Udoka may soon be heading to coach the Nets, Smart didn’t sound like someone who was happy about the move.
“Obviously, we wish he was here,” Smart said to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. “We have no control over that. It definitely sucks. I guess it was deemed that whatever happened was enough for him not to be the coach here, but I guess not enough for him (not) to be a coach anywhere else, obviously.
“His name got slandered and slaughtered, and it was ‘He’ll probably never coach again,’” Smart said. “And a couple of months later, now he’s possibly going to be the coach of one of our biggest rivals? It’s tough. It makes no sense.”
During a recent interview with Marc Bertrand of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, Mazzulla spoke about the reaction of his players on the Udoka news.
“I think it’s great that our guys express themselves,” Mazzulla said. “I think it’s great how they express how they feel, and I want that environment where they talk about how they feel. It’s my job to be there for them. It’s my job to hear them out. We just have to hear each other out and get through it together.”
Bertrand asked Mazzulla if he was in an awkward spot when he hears Jaylen Brown say it “sucks” Udoka isn’t back or when he hears Smart’s comments?
“The truth is those guys have a high level of respect for Ime,” Mazzulla said. “He was a great coach when he was here with the Celtics. He earned those guys’ trust. They should feel that way.
“I don’t think it’s a tough spot at all. I think it’s the truth. As an organization, we have to create an environment where people can express how they feel.”
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