There's little doubt that Joe Mazzulla has earned the opportunity to be the Boston Celtics' full-time head coach for the foreseeable future. So, it wasn't exactly surprising that the team announced Mazzulla as its official head coach Thursday, removing his interim tag and announcing a contract extension for the 34-year-old.
But it was fair to wonder about the timing of the announcement. What prompted the Celtics to drop Mazzulla's interim tag now after 59 games, and not just wait until the offseason (or do it sooner)?
Our Celtics Insider Chris Forsberg joined NBC Sports Boston's Tom Giles on an emergency episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast to share his two-part theory on why the announcement came when it did.
Celtics Talk EMERGENCY POD: Reaction to Celtics naming Joe Mazzulla head coach | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube
Part one of Forsberg's theory is that the team's inspired effort in Milwaukee -- where the Celtics took the Bucks to overtime despite playing without Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Al Horford -- could have further solidified to Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens and the front office that Mazzulla is the right man for the job.
"One, Joe had earned it, but there was something -- Tuesday felt like a demarcation point going up to Milwaukee with nothing but the B Team, minus four starters, only 12 minutes for (Robert Williams) and still almost winning that game. There was never a doubt, but (maybe) Brad and the Celtics brass sat there and said, 'OK, if you can do this..." and based on what he's done the entirety of the season, he deserves that job."
Part two of Forsberg's theory -- which Giles co-signed -- was that Boston wanted to give Mazzulla some clarity and avoid any awkward interactions at NBA All-Star Weekend, where Mazzulla will be the head coach of Team Giannis in Sunday's All-Star Game.
"The other thing here is, he will be coaching Team Giannis. They will go to All-Star weekend and he's going to have media availability for 45 minutes after Saturday's practice, and that was invariably going to come up," Forsberg said.
"Absolutely," Giles replied. "I mean, can you imagine if you're an out-of-town reporter and you're like, 'Joe do you find it weird you're the head coach of Team Giannis at the NBA All-Star Game but you're not the full-time head coach of your own team that got you here?"
Forsberg noted that Mazzulla likely wouldn't have been bothered by the situation, but perhaps Stevens felt it important to give his coach some peace of mind -- both in Utah this weekend and after the regular season, where speculation Ime Udoka's next step will inevitably begin if teams fire their head coaches.
"I think Joe would be like, 'No, I'm just focused on my job,' and he would truck right through it, but Brad, who worries about these things, was probably like, 'The sooner we can do this and the sooner we can eliminate that potential for distraction, the better,'" Forsberg said.
"That can be two-fold, too: It can not only be tied to Joe, it can also be like, what happens when the first coach gets fired right after the season? ... And now Ime's situation crops up. I don't think the Celtics were ever in a perfect world going to get to June 30 without having to make a decision, and you saw the (Ime situation) already crop up with the Nets.
"So, to me, it got to the point where it was like, 'We have a lull in the schedule, and 60 games in, there's no reason to complain about what Joe Mazzulla has done.'"
Stevens confirmed part of Forsberg's theory in an interview Thursday night, saying that he didn't want Mazzulla and his team to be in a "cloud of uncertainty" entering the home stretch of the season. To hear Stevens explain why the team extended Mazzulla and more reaction from Forsberg and Giles, subscribe to the Celtics Talk Podcast or watch on YouTube below.