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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
6 Jan 2024
Steve Hewitt

NextImg:Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla thinks NBA should rename Coach of the Month award

Joe Mazzulla may not have cared too much about being named the coach of the month when he first started leading the Celtics. But as they rip through the NBA with the best record through two-plus months, he believes the recognition reaffirms what they’re doing on a daily basis.

And Mazzulla would like to see the award named something else.

“Does it mean something to me? In the past I probably would have said no,” Mazzulla said after the Celtics’ 126-97 win over the Jazz pushed them to 27-7 this season. “But I think it’s a testament to what we’re building and what we’re creating. So it’s a testament to the staff. I wish they would change it to staff of the month because I’m not doing it by myself. I’m not the one controlling scouts, I’m not the one making the edits, I’m not the one doing the matchups during the game or coming up with lineup suggestions. That’s the entire staff.

“Then if the players don’t let me coach them, I’m not really a good coach. So I think it’s a testament to the environment we’re creating. So, yeah, it does mean something to me, because it shows what we’re doing is paying off. … I do think they should get rid of the award or change it to staff of the month.”

Mazzulla was named the Eastern Conference coach of the month after the Celtics went a league-best 12-2 in December. It was his second such honor after he also won the award following his first month in charge in October/November 2022.

After last season, Mazzulla went out and replenished his coaching staff with the additions of assistants Charles Lee and Sam Cassell. That added experience has certainly been a boost, and an uber-talented roster doesn’t hurt. But Mazzulla has shown some growth in his second season. He recognized some pitfalls and shortcomings from his rookie season. And notably, after having no time to prepare when he was thrust into the head-coaching job days before training camp, Mazzulla had time this summer to develop an identity and mindset for his group.

“I think Joe’s done a great job out of the gate of saying, ‘This is how we need to be. This is what we need to do for each other to be the best that we can be. These are the strengths of your teammates. How can we get those out of them and make it a focal point?’ ” Brad Stevens said. “People use the word sacrifice a lot. It’s the idea of serving a team. Like, being there for the good of the group. And I think he’s done a great job of that all the way through.

“Again, I’ve been in several of these practices now where we come back off a loss or a long trip, or even some wins where we didn’t play very well or do things very well – we’re just doing all the right stuff to improve. We’re not going to be perfect. I think we’ve got a shot, and we’ve got an unbelievable group of people just pulling in one direction. You know, my phone doesn’t ring very often. It’s a really good group.”

The Celtics have continuously raved about the difference Kristaps Porzingis has made for them and the unique dynamic he brings for them offensively, which has been apparent to start the season. But though his value is clear for the No. 1 team in the NBA, he may have some difficulty earning a second career All-Star nod. He came in eighth among the East’s frontcourt players in the first round of fan voting. He’ll likely need the coaches to select him as a reserve.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are seemingly locks to earn All-Star selections, but they hope Porzingis – who was averaging 20.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in addition to shooting a career-high 53.5 percent from the field entering Saturday – should join them.

“I mean, because he’s a big part of the success that we’re having as a team,” Tatum said. “Best record in the league. I don’t know exactly but he’s probably averaging over 20 and 8 rebounds, something like that. His presence on both ends of the floor and just how efficient he’s been the entire season. He’s a big reason why we got the best record in the league, and he should be rewarded for that.” …

The Celtics reported no injuries for Saturday night’s game against the Pacers. Porzingis, who has been managing a calf injury from earlier this season by resting one night of back-to-backs, played in both legs of Friday and Saturday’s back-to-back.