Before the Celtics hired Joe Mazzulla in 2019, president of basketball operations Brad Stevens personally vetted his background.
Stevens addressed questions about Mazzulla’s background at a press conference Friday, including why the Celtics felt comfortable having him replace Ime Udoka, who was suspended for the entirety of the 2022-23 season for “violations” of team policies.
Mazzulla, 34, was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery in 2009 for allegedly grabbing a woman by the neck at a bar while he was in college. The case was settled out of court, according to ESPN’s Malika Andrews.
“When we were considering hiring him as an assistant,” Stevens said. “I vetted that and the incidents when he was in college really thoroughly. And I will tell you this: I believe strongly in Joe’s substantiveness as a person.”
In 2010, Mazzulla and one of his teammates at West Virginia were cited for public urination. He was also charged in 2008 with underage drinking and aggravated assault on a police officer, but pleaded down to misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.
“He’s been very open with me about how those moments have impacted him in every which way and you can see that in the way he carries himself,” Stevens said. “You could see that for a long time. We’ve had years to get to know him. He’s been working with us for three years.
“You’ve probably seen articles about him from around that time that I’m sure I read there years ago when I hired him as an assistant,” Stevens said. “But I believe strongly that that shaped him into who he is today in a really, really good way. But he’ll be the first to tell you he’s 110 percent accountable for that, and I’ll be the first to tell you I believe in him.”
Mazzulla is widely considered an up-and-comer in the NBA coaching ranks.
He was an assistant coach for five years at the Division II college level before spending two years with the Maine Red Claws. He left the Red Claws to become head coach at Fairmont State. Stephens hired Mazzulla as an assistant coach with the Celtics in 2019.
Mazzulla was a finalist for the Utah Jazz head coaching job during the offseason. The Jazz ultimately hired former Celtics assistant Will Hardy for the position.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said that Mazzulla is someone who would eventually become an NBA head coach one day anyway, but that the fallout from the Udoka situation made that day come quicker than anticipated.
The Celtics, who enter the season as betting favorites to win the NBA Finals, begin training camp next week.
“I believe in Joe’s leadership,” Stevens said. “And again with all of them [Celtics assistant coaches] bringing their strengths to the table, I think it’s going to be an unbelievable challenge but I’m really confident in the team and the coaching staff that will take the court on Tuesday. It’s not what we expected to have happened, but I’m very confident.”
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