NBA: Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla embracing opportunity
Boston Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla said Monday he is focused on connecting with his players while adding that he will give people time to heal in the wake of predecessor Ime Udoka’s season-long suspension.
Udoka was suspended Thursday for an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the organization.
“It’s an unfortunate situation for everyone involved,” Mazzulla, 34, said at a packed Celtics media day. “We need to give everyone time and space to heal.
“You can’t rush trust. You can’t rush healing. You can’t rush any of that. Regardless of what has happened, we have a great roster and we have a great opportunity. That’s what I have to focus on.”
Part of the healing for All-Star Jayson Tatum includes the feeling of a full disconnect from the top of the organization.
Tatum said he first learned Udoka was on the verge of a suspension “on Twitter, like everybody else.” Tatum and teammate Jaylen Brown both said they were shocked. Neither has talked to Udoka, but both said they’ll embrace Mazzulla in his new role.
“We’re all in this together,” Tatum said. “It’s the same guy we know, (Mazzulla is) just in a different position.”
A Celtics assistant coach the past two seasons, Mazzulla’s only head coaching experience was at Division II Fairmont State.
“In moments like this, you have to stay emphatic, poised and focused on the most important thing — making sure the players and myself are on the same page,” he said.
Brown said resiliency can become the calling card of this Celtics team. He said he was mostly shocked but also confused by the news of Udoka’s actions.
“The best we can say is just to move on,” Brown said Monday.
On his multiple arrests as a player at West Virginia, Mazzulla said he’s learned from his transgressions.
“I’ve made mistakes,” he said. “I’m not perfect. I’ve hurt people and I’ve had to use the situations I’ve put myself in as a younger man to become a better person.”
In his first season as head coach in 2021-22, Udoka led the Celtics to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games. Boston finished the regular season with a 51-31 record before beating the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat in the playoffs.
Udoka previously served as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs (2012-19), Philadelphia 76ers (2019-20) and Nets (2020-21) following a seven-year playing career in the NBA.
He issued a statement on Thursday.
“I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization, and my family for letting them down,” he said. “I am sorry for putting the team in this difficult situation, and I accept the team’s decision.”
Udoka has been engaged to actress Nia Long since 2015, and they have a son. On Friday, she made her first statement about the matter.
“The outpouring of love and support from family, friends and the community during this difficult time means so much to me,” Long told People magazine. “I ask that my privacy be respected as I process the recent events. Above all, I am a mother and will continue to focus on my children.”