NBA Media Day is typically a wellspring of optimism and
excitement for teams across the Association. But in Boston, Celtics
players have simply been trying to collect their bearings.
Ime Udoka's sudden one-year suspension as the team's head coach
has rocked the organization and sent unprecedented questions toward
a roster trying to rebound from falling two wins short of an NBA
title. While Monday's press conference still included on-court
questions, most of the dialogue revolved around Udoka, interim head
coach Joe Mazzulla and the players' ability to even process this
Here's what we did learn about the Celtics' muddled
circumstances, plus some unanswered questions that will hopefully
be answered before the season:
WHAT DO THE PLAYERS KNOW ABOUT IME UDOKA'S
Based on their answers, very little.
Jayson Tatum said he found out about Udoka's suspension on
Twitter. Grant Williams said he learned "same as everyone else."
Shams Charania of The
Athletic reported that members of the Celtics
franchise first learned of Ime Udoka's relationship with another
woman in the organization in July.
Marcus Smart said that Udoka visited him and other players in
Los Angeles over the summer, and he noticed nothing unusual about
the suspended head coach.
"I think that's why (the news is) so off-guard for us, because
everything just seemed so normal," Smart said.
Since the announcement, the players have obviously met and had
conversations. But several indicated that, as of Monday, the
players don't know much more information than the public. Tatum has
not spoken with Udoka since the suspension.
"It's been hell for us, caught by surprise. Nobody really knows
anything. So we're just in the wind just like everybody else. So
the last couple of days, as far as this, have been confusing,"
"I wish we had more details," Jaylen Brown said. "From what we
know, it's hard to make a decision based upon whether it's
consensual or not in the workplace or whatever is going on — which
we've known has happened before in the workplace — but I guess
there's more to it possibly, which we don't know. I don't know. I
don't have all the details; [they're] not being shared with me. So
it's hard to really comment on something that you're not filled in
with all the details. So I don't really have a feeling or comment
on my emotions about it because I don't have the details."
Celtics players generally seemed to understand that legal and
privacy reasons have slowed the information process. That doesn't
mean it's easy being left in the dark on the full story.
"If you read the statement, and if you watched the press
conference [Friday], obviously, apparently there's a lot of things
that they can't, can't speak about," Tatum said. "So I think I'm
kind of in the same boat, as — I don't know. So it's hard for me to
answer if things were handled the right way [or] if they weren't
because I guess for a lot of reasons, I don't know all the
Added Smart: "We don't know what the organization knows. So it's
kind of hard to say that — we don't know what they know, so we
don't know what they are supposed to tell us or what we're supposed
to know. And I think this is where this is at and why it is what it
is, because literally, no one knows anything. We're still waiting
just like everybody else. As a player, you would like it to be
known, but at the same time, that's none of our business. It's
their lives. It's the people involved, it's between them, you know,
and we should respect their privacy and we understand, just like we
want our privacy respected. So, although, as a player, you would
like to know, like I said, it's it's not an obligation."
DOES JOE MAZZULLA HAVE THE BACKING OF THE
Like Brad Stevens and Wyc Grousbeck did
on Friday, the players gave positive reviews of Mazzulla. The
34-year-old was hired as an assistant on the C's staff in 2019, and
is a holdover from the Stevens coaching era.
"He knows and understands us as players. He's built
relationships with us. So we love Joe; we're excited to be able to
work with him in this opportunity that he has," Smart said.
Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser have both played under Mazzulla
when he was at the helm of the Summer League Celtics.
"I think he's gonna be an unbelievable coach," Pritchard said.
"He's intelligent, he knows the game and I think he is the right
amount of, like, pushing players, but also understanding
"I think he is a hard-nosed type of coach," Hauser added. "He
kind of says it how it is, but he also really cares about you as a
person — not only a basketball player, but he really cares about
the off-the-floor stuff. I'm excited for Joe, and I can't wait to
see how he takes advantage of this opportunity."
Malcolm Brogdon certainly didn't expect this past week to happen
when he joined Boston as a high-profile
trade acquisition. Brogdon said the Indiana Pacers gave him a
few options for trade destinations, and he picked Boston because,
"I want to win."
In his short time knowing Mazzulla, Brogdon has admired his
discipline. Mazzulla often lifts weights with Brogdon early in the
morning. One time he approached Brogdon, who was doing a breathing
exercise, and started explaining the theories behind different
techniques. Brogdon has also heard of Mazzulla's reputation for
putting together quality opponent scouts.
"He's a guy that is so detail-oriented; I am like-minded with
people that are detail-oriented, that care about the small things,
the little things that get you through the day," Brogdon said.
WHAT WILL MAZZULLA CHANGE FROM UDOKA'S
Of course, the Celtics have all the on-court pieces to replicate
and even improve upon last season. Mazzulla does not want to
drastically change course from Boston's success under
"It's about carrying on the identity of our players," Mazzulla
said. "We had our struggles early last season, but at our best, we
knew what our identity was. It was our defense, it was our buy-in
from a defensive standpoint, and then it was sharing the ball and
moving quickly on the offensive end. So as much as we can stick to
the things that we were great at last year, and then find small
areas to improve in, is the right way to go."
The Celtics' coaching staff now has two openings with Udoka's
suspension and Will Hardy's departure for the Utah Jazz head
coaching gig. Mazzulla has not thought about replacements yet and
would work with Stevens on filling out the bench. He believes the
foundation of existing relationships should help the Celtics build
solid chemistry early in the season.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CENTER ROTATION WITH ROBERT WILLIAMS
Amidst the off-court bombshell, the Celtics also announced that
Robert Williams III will miss 8-to-12 weeks as he recovers from
arthroscopic knee surgery. This puts additional strain on an
already-thin big rotation for a Boston team that sent Daniel Theis
out in the trade for Brogdon this summer.
Luke Kornet could step into major minutes. The 7-foot-2 center
spent most of last season with the Maine Celtics in the NBA G
League, but has four seasons of experience at the top level. Kornet
said that with the door for minutes certainly open, his mindset
naturally changes, but not his approach to the game.
"There definitely is a bit of a switch in that, but in terms of
still being a basketball player and conditioning and [wondering]
how am I going to help this team do the best they can — a lot of
those things stay the same. But there's some change," Kornet
A larger burden falls on Al Horford, now age-36 and older than
his head coach, to shoulder some of the two-way responsibilities
Rob Williams wields.
"For me, I have to step up a little more, Grant's gonna have to
step up a little more, Luke, whichever one of our bigs, we just
have to step up and do a little more," Horford said. "Even some of
our guys, whether it's you know, [Tatum] playing more at the 4 or
whatever it may be, I'm not sure about all that. But we all just
have to do more until he gets back."
Williams, meanwhile, will start a road to recovery that began as
he battled knee injuries throughout last spring's playoffs. Despite
eventually needing surgery, he doesn't regret playing through the
injury to compete in the NBA Finals.
"I'm playing the Finals, you know what I'm saying?" Williams
said. "You win some you lose some, but I don't regret my decision
at all. I was 24 years old, my dream was to play in the Finals,
dawg. I can't regret that sh**."
What is the extent of Udoka's
misconduct? — Ultimately, the players and public need
more details as to the forces behind a year-long suspension and
potential firing. Grousbeck said Friday that Udoka committed
multiple violations of multiple team policies, suggesting the
punishment came down for much more than the singular act of being
in a workplace relationship. While the woman's privacy must be
respected, there must be some level of clarity on the
What has Mazzulla done to atone for his past
arrests? — Mazzulla answered two questions
relating to multiple arrests between 2008 and
2009, including a domestic violence charge in '09. Here were
"Listen, I've made mistakes. I'm not perfect. I've hurt people,
and I've had to use the situations I put myself in as a younger
man, I've had to use to learn from and to become a better person,"
Mazzulla said. "And that's what I've tried to focus on is: 'How can
I recreate my identity as a person? How can I rely on my faith? And
how can I just have a positive impact on the people around me?' And
I've always had good people around me...
"...I can't talk about specifics of [the incidents]. But what I
can talk about is: I'm not the same person that I was, and I think
as you grow as a person, you're constantly having to build an
identity, and you know, I didn't have an identity at a certain
point in my life for whatever reason. And I think it's [about]:
'How can I develop an identity? How can I find a foundation which
for me, is my faith, and then, how can I impact people positively
around me? And that's something that I really learned throughout my
Mazzulla did not dodge any questions and he did acknowledge his
past wrongdoing. But he also did not explain what led to his
behavior, what in his faith prompted the change and how he has
shown other people he has progressed.
Player and front-office endorsements are not enough in an NBA
that has hired at least two other coaches with domestic-violence
and sexual-assault histories in the last year-and-change — not to
mention the recent reminders of troubling workplace environments in
Boston and Phoenix. We need more assurance that this behavior does
not have a tolerable place in the league.
How will Mazzulla manage his starters in the early
goings of the regular season? — Among the many, many
questions Mazzulla will face as he acclimates to the head-coaching
gig is the impending usage for Tatum, Brown and others. Tatum
played through a fractured wrist down the stretch of the postseason
(he said he feels good on Monday).
Can Mazzulla give the high-usage players more rest to hopefully
prepare them for another deep playoff run? Or will the Celtics have
to go all-out just to stay on top of a stacked Eastern
- Brown's name popped up in trade rumors surrounding Kevin Durant
this offseason, and the 25-year-old said he discussed those rumors
with members of the Celtics, but did not elaborate.
"I've talked to my teammates, I talked to ownership, the
organization, etc. I'll keep those conversations between us," Brown
said. "All I can say is now that I'm here, I'm ready to play
basketball. I'm in great shape, probably the best shape of my life.
So I'm excited to start the journey."
- With Brogdon bolstering a stellar guard rotation, his addition
leaves room to wonder about Pritchard's playing time. Pritchard is
embracing the competition for minutes in training camp.
"Obviously, we have a lot of tremendous players. But I don't go
through all summer and all year working on my game to just ride the
bench," Pritchard said. "So for me, I'm just looking forward to the
opportunity to go out there and compete, and earn minutes and see
where that lies. Ultimately, we just want the team success
- Grant Williams will soon be eligible for a contract extension,
but said he hasn't let that distract him.
"When it comes to that, I just let my agents and everybody
handle it, because if you become too overwhelmed or concerned with
it, that's when you start focusing on your play or you start doing
things that aren't necessarily characteristic of yourself,"
Williams said. "For me, my number one focus and goal is allowing
and helping this team to win a championship. Everything else takes
care of itself."