Stevens Gives Assessment of 2022-23 Season and Beyond

BOSTON – Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens held his end-of-season press conference Thursday afternoon, and there was plenty to talk about following another deep playoff run.

Stevens touched on a variety of subjects throughout the 27-minute media session, including his assessment of Joe Mazzulla and the coaching staff, a general evaluation of the team's successes and shortcomings, and a look ahead toward the organization's future.

Here is a breakdown of some of the noteworthy topics from the discussion:

Evaluating the Season

For the most part, Stevens seemed satisfied with how the 2022-23 season unfolded. The team got off to a blazing, 21-5 start despite going through the adversity of a last-minute coaching change. And it played some inspiring playoff basketball despite an earlier exit than it had hoped for.

Stevens highlighted how the Celtics finished second in the league in both offensive and defensive rating, but also noted that there was some slippage on both ends of the court that proved to be critical during their Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Miami Heat.

The biggest takeaway was the grit that the team displayed, battling back from a 3-2 deficit in the second round to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, and then fighting to stay alive for a full seven-game ECF series with Miami after losing the first three contests.

“We have an incredibly resilient group,” Stevens said. “They're tough, with their backs against the wall they are amazing. At the same time, we came up short.”

Although the team was outstanding with its back against the wall, there were lapses during less-urgent situations, such as not capitalizing on opportunities to close out Games 1 and 4 against Philadelphia, as well as Games 1 and 2 against Miami.

“It's about putting that full 48 together, and that's shared results,” said Stevens. “That's on all of us. It's not just coaches, it's not just players; I look at how can I help everybody do that better, so we all play a role in that and we all have to play better for 48 minutes if we want to win, and every game is worth one in the playoffs. We saw what we were like with our backs against the wall. With the exception of Game 7 (against Miami), we were pretty good.”

Ultimately, the Heat played an outstanding series and deserved their NBA Finals berth. But that shouldn’t take away from the strong season that Boston put forth and the resiliency it displayed throughout.

Assessing Mazzulla’s First Year

Speaking of resiliency, Joe Mazzulla displayed his throughout the season after battling through one of the more unorthodox experiences for a first-year NBA head coach in recent memory.

Despite being elevated into the interim head-coaching position less than a week before the start of training camp and despite having a depleted staff from the previous year, Mazzulla still managed to guide the team to 57 regular-season wins (the second-most by a rookie Celtics coach after Bill Russell’s 60 in 1966-67) and 11 more in the playoffs.

Midway through the season, he deservedly had the interim tag removed and went on to be one of three finalists for Coach of the Year while being the youngest head coach in the league.

Stevens, who initially brought Mazzulla on board in 2019 as one of his assistants, called the 34-year-old a “terrific leader,” and one that will only get better.

“When you consider the position he was thrust into and the overall accomplishments of the group, I thought he did a really good job,” said Stevens. “When you look at it in the big picture and having a team that was second in offense, second in defense, won 57 games and (had) a chance to go to the NBA Finals on your home court, there’s a lot of direction and organization that goes into that.”

Stevens marvels at the fact that Mazzulla was able to organize so quickly, a feat that Stevens says he could’ve never done during his days as a head coach.

“I always needed a whole summer of planning,” he said. “A whole summer of thinking and organizing thoughts and being able to catch yourself ready to emphasize what you want to emphasize on a daily basis.”

And now that Mazzulla will have a full summer to prepare for next season, “There's no question that will be a huge benefit,” said Stevens. “To do what they did in five days and get ready for the season and to start the season the way we did was a little bit more remarkable than people outside the building would have thought.”

Bolstering the Staff

Another benefit that Mazzulla will have this summer is the opportunity to add more voices around him on the sideline, which Stevens says will be one of the primary objectives of the offseason.

Boston’s coaching staff was left depleted after the pre-season losses of head coach Ime Udoka and lead assistant Will Hardy, as well as the midseason departure of Damon Stoudamire. Yet, under the circumstances, the group of remaining assistants did a stellar job.

“I think that’s one thing that kind of gets lost in the shuffle,” Stevens said of having a smaller staff. “But the staff we had was good. And we did try (to add coaches). Losing Damon in March, we again tried. But those timings are tough for people to up and move or up and join a new team that they don’t know anything about or don’t know. But that was just to be supplemental because we believed in the people that were here.”

Stevens said the team plans to make at least one coaching addition this summer – “Somebody that has a lot of NBA experience, for sure.”

Keeping the Core Intact

Aside from some potential coaching additions and small roster tweaks, the Celtics don’t appear to have any plans of making major moves this summer. They have no intention of breaking apart their core anytime soon, and they shouldn’t.

Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart have been together for six full seasons now, Robert Williams has been here for five, Al Horford for five of the last seven, and those guys have experienced nothing but success together.

With five trips to the Eastern Conference Finals in the last seven years, all it should take is a little bit of fine-tuning to get that group over the top.

“At the end of the day, we love our foundation, we love our core and that’s really our focus and priority,” said Stevens.

The only big core-related decision the front office has looming is a potential extension for Brown later this year.

Although Stevens is not allowed to talk about contract details at this time, “I can say, without a doubt, we want Jaylen to be here. He’s a big part of us and we believe in him and I'm thankful for him. I've said this earlier: I'm really thankful for when those guys have success, they come back to work. And when they get beat, they own it, and they come back to work. So I know that that’s what they're about. And that's hard to find … Those qualities aren’t for everybody. So Jaylen had a great year, an All-NBA year, and he's a big part of us moving forward in our eyes.”