HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto and The Athletic’s Jared Weiss discuss the future of Celtics coach Ime Udoka. The duo also reports on Robert Williams’ injury, why Boston signed Blake Griffin over Carmelo Anthony, and where extension talks stand with Grant Williams on the latest HoopsHype podcast episode.
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2:10 Ime Udoka’s long-term future in Boston
Scotto: I spoke with four NBA executives this week about the Ime Udoka situation in Boston. Each of those four executives told HoopsHype they don’t think Udoka will return as coach of the Boston Celtics after his yearlong suspension is done.
Weiss: That’s the consensus. I haven’t had anyone in the organization tell me they don’t think he’s coming back. I feel like they’re moving on with that expectation and that the reason for a suspension is more about whatever legal processes are happening right now rather than they genuinely want to reassess it in the future. I’m sure there is some degree of uncertainty whether or not they would bring him back. I don’t think it’s like he’s fired, and it’s set in stone, and that’s it. I’m sure there’s some evaluation that has to be done at some point, but it seems so unlikely that he would come back.
Scotto: Two other questions I’m brainstorming are if there’s a shot he can be coaching somewhere else after this season and what does this mean for the future of Jaylen Brown, who was in trade talks this summer for Kevin Durant? Remember, Ime Udoka is fond of Durant from their time together when Udoka was an assistant coach for the Brooklyn Nets.
Weiss: Brooklyn is the most obvious destination here for him (Udoka) if they want to keep that team together and want to move on from Steve Nash. What’s really interesting about this is what if Nash gets fired during the season and Ime is the guy for that job? What happens then? Maybe that’s part of the reason why he isn’t fired yet and is suspended. Maybe the Celtics would like to trade him. That would be really fascinating.
As far as Jaylen is concerned with this organization, I don’t think Ime is going to make or break that situation… I didn’t get the impressions that Ime being supportive of them going after KD would change the way that Jaylen feels. I think Jaylen understands that it’s KD and the only trade candidate or only player they were considering trading him for was Durant. It’s not like it was a Donovan Mitchell situation. I think Jaylen understood why this was happening. I’m not getting the impression he’s playing out his deal and then looking to go elsewhere. I think he’s in a pretty good spot with the organization considering.
There’s an obvious dichotomy here where Jayson Tatum was not in the talks. JT is pretty clearly untouchable. Jaylen isn’t, and he knows that.
7:10 Joe Mazzulla
Scotto: The Celtics have explored the possibility of adding another staff member under Joe Mazzulla. One potential internal candidate could be Jarrell Christian. He previously was the head coach of the Maine Celtics, and he was an assistant coach under Scott Brooks with the Wizards for two seasons. Christian just became the general manager of Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Celtics. I’m curious to see what Boston does now after not getting Jay Larranaga and where they go from there if they’re going to pivot and bring on an additional staff member in whatever capacity.
Weiss: The Christian thing is interesting because generally that GM role for Maine is usually not a full-time position. Before, it was Remy Cofield, who was a scout. Before him, it was Dave Lewin, who was a scouting director. Austin Ainge was before that. This was always a higher-level scouting department member of the Celtics who was doing that as part of their job.
Scotto: Clearly Brad (Stevens) has faith in Mazzula. He picked him over other guys on that staff like Damon Stoudamire, etc. What is the sense in the locker room about Mazzulla being the guy to lead this team?
Weiss: There’s been pretty good support publicly, and I think the big thing is that he’s been there for a while, and they’ve generally loved him for a while. He’s had, whether it’s the players’ ears, or it’s other people in the organization, he’s been that rising star with the team. He was the only assistant that was held over from the Stevens era. This year, he was supposed to be moving to the front of the bench. It would’ve been him, Stoudamire and Ben Sullivan on the front of the bench with Udoka.
What’s interesting about the timing here when you compare it to Will Hardy, who was one of the more experienced but still young assistant coaches in the league, is that Mazzulla and Hardy were both finalists for that Utah Jazz job. The difference in NBA-level experience, especially front of the bench assistant experience, is a pretty big gap between those two. It’s not necessarily that Hardy is a better coach, or at least will be a better coach long term. Who’s more ready right now? You’d assume Hardy is more ready right now, but everyone talks about how ready Mazzulla is.
I think the players are pretty on board with it. I think they like him as the replacement or interim. I think they like that it’s someone they’ve been around for a while.
14:10 Robert Williams’ injury timeline
Scotto: Robert Williams underwent knee surgery. He previously said, “It never got back to what it was” and dealt with “recurring problems,” but he didn’t regret playing in the Finals. What’s the latest, if any, update you’re hearing on Williams and when we could potentially see him back for the Celtics?
Weiss: I haven’t heard anything indicating there would be an earlier time frame than the 2-3 months. I just saw him walking around the other day. He’s got a single crutch on the side where the knee (surgery) is. He’s basically using it as a big cane essentially to support his walking. He’s walking pretty gingerly. It’s not like he’s full on limping, but he doesn’t look like he’s putting all of his weight on his knee the way he normally would, and he’s not doing full strides like he normally would. I think he’s definitely got a ways to go before getting back out there, and I’d presume they’re going to go on the more conservative time of this time frame because he’s already come back a few different times in his career, and the results haven’t been good. They’ve got to take as much time as they can because if he goes down again for this injury, you’ve got to worry about his career at that point.
16:10 Why Boston signed Blake Griffin over Carmelo Anthony
Scotto: I think the absence of Robert Williams affected the way they went about replacing Danilo Gallinari. There were some rumblings out there about Carmelo Anthony before Blake Griffin. One of the reasons the Boston Celtics targeted Griffin was the team prioritized defense. Griffin was one of the league leaders at drawing charges. With Williams being out to start the season, Griffin can play the five. Offensively, Griffin can help with DHOs (dribble handoffs). Melo would’ve been a fine stretch four and could’ve replaced that role similar to Gallinari, but that wasn’t the focus after the surgery for Williams, I’m told.
Weiss: Griffin was the best defensive fit for all of those other veterans out there because the Celtics do a ton of switching, and he was, I think, the only big that was available who has good experience that can actually switch. He also can play the four and the five. Once Williams gets back, and they don’t have to have him at the five, they can have him at the four.
19:50 Grant Williams extension talks
Scotto: Following the recent extension for Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr, I spoke with four NBA executives, and they told HoopsHype they projected Grant Williams to be worth between $12-13 million annually in any extension talks.
One executive told me, “For an extension now, he’s probably in the $12-14 million territory. I think $15 million is not out of the question, but definitely on the high end, and it means they’d think he’s going to be a starter.”
I’m told Williams is now at 265. In the playoffs, he was closer to 280. He’s certainly putting himself in position for a big contract season coming up.
My sense is if he’s in that $12-13 million range annually, they’ve got to think about it. I think $15 million would get it done, but I don’t know if the Celtics are willing to necessarily go that high.
Weiss: If I were Williams, I wouldn’t take under $15 million for a few reasons. One, you look at that Nance deal where that sets the bottom of his expectations because Nance, and you could debate who’s better at this point… Williams is only 23. He’s still early in his career. Williams is probably going to improve a lot more. He’s only been getting regular minutes for a little while now. He’s got a lot more room to improve…. He might start to begin the season and be a starter for a while (depending on Robert Williams’ return). At the very least, especially with Gallinari being out for the year, it looks like he’ll be a major factor on this team. He’s going to be their sixth or seventh man again and probably will get even more minutes this year.