Mazzulla looks to become sixth rookie coach to win NBA title originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
For the second consecutive year, the Boston Celtics enter the new NBA season with a rookie head coach.
Joe Mazzulla was elevated from his assistant role to replace Ime Udoka, who's serving a season-long suspension for violating team guidelines. Despite having to hire a new head coach on such short notice, the Celtics remain odds-on favorites to win the 2023 NBA Finals.
Why did Celtics choose Mazzulla? Mannix and Forsberg weigh in
Udoka nearly accomplished the feat in his inaugural season as Boston's head coach. He led the Celtics to Game 6 of the Finals, where they fell to Steve Kerr's Golden State Warriors. Had the C's won the series, Udoka would have become only the sixth first-year head coach ever to win a title.
Mazzulla, the NBA's head coach 34 years old, has a real chance to join that exclusive club this season. Here are the five names he'd like to join after the 2022-23 campaign.
Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors, 2019
Nurse spent five years on Dwane Casey's staff before replacing him as head coach of the Toronto Raptors. Casey left to coach the Detroit Pistons after winning the 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year award.
The Raptors didn't miss a beat with Nurse leading the charge. They finished the 2018-19 season with a 58-24 record and went on to defeat the Warriors in six games in the NBA Finals.
The Celtics will hope their in-house promotion works out similarly.
Tyronn Lue, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016
Lue stepped into an ideal situation in Cleveland with a stacked roster that included LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The Cavs went to the Finals the year prior with David Blatt as head coach, but fell to the Warriors in seven games.
Lue replaced Blatt miseason and was able to help Cleveland finish the job. Led by James and Irving, the Cavs finished their season with a 51-31 record and defeated Golden State for the franchise's first NBA championship.
Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors, 2015
The start of the Warriors' dynastic run came in 2014 when Kerr took over for Mark Jackson. Like Lue, Kerr was put in a position to succeed with the "Big Three" of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Golden State went on to post a ridiculous 67-15 regular-season record and defeat LeBron's Cavaliers in the Finals. All Kerr has done since then is bring three more Larry O'Brien trophies to the Bay.
Pat Riley, Los Angeles Lakers, 1982
Riley began his head coaching career with the "Showtime Lakers" after Magic Johnson pressured the Lakers brass to fire Paul Westhead, who led the team to a title in 1980. After Lakers owner Jerry Buss granted Johnson's request, Riley helped L.A. finish the 1981-82 season with a 57-25 record and breeze through the playoffs, where they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals. He went on to coach the Lakers to three more championships in 1985, '87 and '88.
Paul Westhead, Los Angeles Lakers, 1980
Westhead served as an assistant to Jack McKinney in 1979, but he was tasked with taking over as Lakers head coach after McKinney was seriously injured in a bicycle accident. He was able to lead L.A. to a 60-22 record and the top seed in the Western Conference before a postseason run in which it beat the 76ers in the NBA Finals. Westhead would eventually be forced out as head coach during the 1981-82 season and replaced by Riley, who went on to turn the Showtime Lakers into a dynasty.