Celtics fans were looking forward to a revenge tour after falling to the Golden State Warriors last season, but things just took a big halt after head coach Ime Udoka was suspended for the entire 2022-23 season due to a “consensual relationship” with an employee. Udoka helped change the Celtics season around, from being 23-24 midseason, to making a Finals appearance. It seemed like Udoka knew how to utilize each one of his players to make it difficult for other teams to score or defend on them. But, all of his tactics will have to wait till at least 2023.

The Interim

Interim Coach Joe Mazulla is set to lead this Celtics team to battle. Mazulla played as a guard at West Virginia University for 4 seasons, then went to coach Fairmont State University in 2013. Mazulla eventually coached the G-League affiliate of the Celtics, before returning to Fairmont. Since 2019, Mazulla has been an assistant with the C’s. That part is key, showing Mazulla has been through the highs with Ime Udoka, but also the lows with Brad Stevens. He has seen what works for this team, and what doesn’t. I don’t think his presence will leave a mark on the team like Ime Udoka, but it won’t be anything negative. 

Who needs to step up right now?

Simple answer: Al Horford. He is a proven veteran, and has the capability to control this team’s mindset. For a team led by two players in their 20’s, it’s important that distractions like Udoka don’t linger in their heads, onto the court. I also feel like Marcus Smart’s leadership will be vital for this Celtics squad. For something so unexpected, it’s only right that the players have a reaction like no other. But, it’s the veterans job to keep the young guys’ heads on the court. Last season can’t be thrown down the drain that easily. 

What to expect…

Look, the city of Boston has the right to be expecting a championship this year. They have the stars, the depth, and everything in between. But, they had all of that during the Brad Stevens Era and were still not able to get over the hump. I think Udoka had a very big part in the Finals run, and I’m not too convinced that the Celtics can do it without them. Especially now that the East is even stronger: The Nets will be fully healthy, Atlanta added Dejounte Murray, Milwaukee is fully healthy, and so are the Bulls. 

This squad easily has the talent to compete with the best, but it all comes down to utilization and execution. Udoka became masterful at that within months, and it completely turned the direction of this organization around. Joe Mazulla may be able to continue what Udoka started, but just not to the full extent. Getting to the Finals consecutive times is by no means easy, especially when your conference is even harder now. To me, I think the Celtics are going to be second round exits. A bit early, but I just don’t see them beating Philly, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Miami, or Atlanta in a series of seven. This may all change within a few months, but it’s all up to what Mazulla does at the wheel. 

The highs and the lows… in the matter of months

Top Photo: Getty Images

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