Asst GM Zarren Reveals Secrets of C's Hiatus Experience
BOSTON – On Friday afternoon, the Boston Celtics hosted their first “Celtics Sit Down” webinar for Season Ticket Members, during which assistant general manager Mike Zarren had plenty of valuable information to relay to nearly 450 critical members of the team’s fan base.
Zarren, who spoke for 45 minutes with Celtics.com host and reporter Amanda Pflugrad, commented on a wide range of topics that included the NBA’s hiatus and its current and future effects on the league, the status of this season’s team, expectations of players if the season resumes, how the Celtics are preparing for the NBA Draft, and Zarren’s interesting unique path into Boston’s basketball operations staff.
Pflugrad quickly prompted Zarren to rewind to March 11-13, when the NBA season began to enter into unknown territory due to the coronavirus pandemic. Zarren stated that the stretch “might have been the busiest three or four nights – except maybe for Draft nights – of my Celtics career.”
He then added context to that claim, revealing that he had just traveled March 11 to watch a conference basketball tournament in the collegiate ranks when, that night, he saw that the game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder had been postponed due to COVID-19. The team quickly decided that, just hours after he had landed, Zarren should fly back to Boston.
As chance had it, Zarren ran into Jon Horst, the general manager of the Bucks – the team the Celtics were set to play the next night in Milwaukee – at the airport, which initiated an entirely different conversation.
“We’re trying to talk about the logistics of each of our teams and what are we going to say to people, and are we going to play the next night, are there going to be fans, what’s going to happen, and there’s probably not going to be a season,” he recalled. “And it quickly turned to us, because we had just played Utah, to figure out, alright, is there a safety concern here for our guys, and how do we get home given that?”
Zarren said that over the course of the next three days, the Celtics front office, amidst the postponement of their matchup with the Bucks in Milwaukee and doctor’s orders to quarantine the team, worked in conjunction with Delta, team doctors, infectious disease experts and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to find a suitable way to get the team back to Boston.
The Celtics swiftly returned back to Boston the afternoon of Thursday, March 12, after the NBA had announced the night prior that the league would go on an indefinite hiatus.
Now, seven-plus weeks later, the league remains in a holding pattern, which will likely affect many areas of team and league business in the coming year.
“Another good question is, ‘What happens to the salary cap if revenues go way down, and how does that get handled by the league and the union?’” he asked. “We just don’t know.
“The summer is always the busiest time for the front office, and we’ve got a bunch of draft picks we can trade for players, for example. So I can’t wait to hear from the league on exactly how they’re going to handle this.”
While those answers may hang in limbo, Zarren is far more informed with regard to his own team.
Through virtual workouts and team Zoom calls that have featured guest stars such as Paul Pierce, David Ortiz, LL Cool J, Mark Wahlberg, Ken Jeong and Myron Rolle, Boston’s front office has been in constant contact with the Celtics players. Zarren believes that those lines of communication, as well as a high level of buy-in from the players, has positioned the team well both physically and mentally for a potential return to the court.
The fact that the team has a high level of chemistry will only assist in that process.
“The group just clicked,” he said of this season’s team. “I don’t know why one group clicks and why other groups don’t. It’s not on one person, but for some reason this group, they love being with each other, they play well together, and any given night it may be a different guy’s night.”
Zarren also noted that the team expects All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, as well as big man Robert Williams, both of whom have battled injuries this season, are expected to be at or close to 100 percent once the Celtics return to practice.
While the organization awaits a back-to-basketball order from the league, Zarren and the rest of the basketball operations staff have been plugging away at preparation for the NBA Draft and the offseason. Zarren surprisingly commented that this area of his group’s business has been affected the least by the pandemic.
“The beauty of our staff is, DA (Danny Ainge) never rests,” Zarren said. “Our whole group is watching guys and watching film all year. I’ve said this to a group of Season Ticket Members: I’d put his film-watching ethic up against any other GM in the NBA. If the Draft had to happen tomorrow, we’d be ready for it.”
As a signal of common belief and confidence amongst Boston’s basketball operations staff, Ainge echoed similar comments to those of his right-hand man, Zarren, while speaking publicly in recent weeks.
The interesting thing about that sentence is that the partnership between these two great basketball minds almost never happened.
“[The Celtics] had just hired Danny (in 2004),” Zarren recalled, after mentioning that the team had also just recently hired him as a stats intern following the release of the book Moneyball. “He said he didn’t want any of that stuff. They knew about on base percentage when he was playing for the (Toronto) Blue Jays back in 1983.
“But about a year and a half into my internship, he started calling me every day, and somehow that was 14 and a half years ago. And somehow I’m the assistant GM of my favorite team now.”
That’s one heck of a story that Zarren will be able to tell for the rest of his life. He and the Celtics hope to add another one to their memory banks in the months to come if they’re given a shot to win a title after this hiatus comes to an end.