Sam Cassell will teach Joe Mazzulla and the Celtics how to win a championship

LAS VEGAS – Sam Cassell stood along the baseline, waiting for Victor Wembanyama to make his debut along with an arena full of NBA fans, players, media and staff. He laughed when asked if his return to the Celtics means more appearances by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — his former Boston teammates. Definitelyhe said.

Sure enough, when the Celtics arrived at the arena to face the Wizards on Sunday, Pierce strolled to his seat along the sidelines for a July game with players who will likely live in Maine this season.

“That’s the only goal,” Cassell said. “It’s not about getting to the conference finals as a member of the Celtics, the coaching staff and the players. It’s about winning the championship. That’s the tradition in Boston – win the championship. Playing for guys who have won for us before, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Russell, Cousy, Maxwell, the story goes on. It’s about them. That’s what our guys have to understand. It’s a point of pride.”

Cassell, like other members of the 2008 team, can’t stop talking about it. It made him a Celtic for life and he remembers it as the highlight of his career. They became a family, pushing each other and demanding each other’s best. After that, the banner made their legacy untouchable. Now he wants to try to describe that feeling to the young Celts.

Charles Lee, Phil Pressey, Amile Jefferson and Cassell did the same when they participated in the Summer League, when they started facing Joe Mazzulla and Boston’s players. Boston hired Cassell away from 76ers after Philadelphia fired Doc Rivers, with whom Cassell coached for the past nine seasons. He was looking forward to the new opportunity as he continues to try to climb the NBA coaching ladder to head coach after several interviews in recent years.

“Right after the playoffs ended, (Mazzulla and I) got together, had a couple of phone conversations, and he asked me first of all if I was interested in coming and joining the staff. I just told him that would be an honor you know I even heard from somebody else it was an opportunity that I was looking forward to and I think Joe is a great coach I’m here to just help them just you know enjoy it. We have a great team and I don’t want to change his mentality, that’s who he is, but I want to help him enjoy it a little bit more. That’s all.”

Cassell emphasized his three decades of continuous experience in the league, giving him knowledge of almost every situation and role. His veteran role on the 2008 Celtics championship team should serve him best to lead this group, arguably the most talented in the league and on the verge of a championship.

That will require connecting and involving players across the roster, though Cassell clearly arrived to mentor Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and the team’s other core talent trying to break through as champions. They became pretty good players during their first six seasons together, Cassell believed, but that’s not enough to win at the highest level. Cassell will emphasize both their continued growth and – as a former point guard – passing

“It’s going to be fun,” Cassell said CLNS Media/CelticsBlog. “It will be challenging, but being a professional coach in this game is challenging, so I’m looking forward to it. It will be fun. We have a great group of guys and we have a mission to accomplish. As a player, my last year of playing basketball, I was a member of the Celtics … I know what it takes to win a championship. The whole composition of it.”

“This is a golden opportunity for us,” he continued. “It’s not easy. I know what it feels like to win a championship in Boston … it’s life-changing. I’ve been retired from the game of basketball for 15-16 years and it’s still life-changing … to understand what it winning a championship in Boston is about. That’s our motivation to go far, but it’s not just going to be (Brown and Tatum). This is a team game. This is a team sport. Even from the top down to the 15th man on the team, we all have to be together. That’s where I know I’m good at ‘staying in the moment’ … meaning if you play five minutes, play the best five minutes you’ve played your life.”

Cassell also became Mazzulla’s first hire after Will Hardy, Damon Stoudamire, Ben Sullivan and several development coaches left the organization along with Ime Udoka. Mazzulla needed to formulate his system, philosophy and principles in a matter of days and in the months that followed saw it falter in ways that became difficult to adjust.

Mazzulla relied on Stoudamire as a former player in a similar role before Georgia State hired him in April, another hole on the staff that the Celtics tried and failed to replace before a playoff run. Sullivan and others in Boston recognized how difficult the year was becoming.

That will be accomplished after a full summer where Mazzulla can adjust the system, Cassell and Lee can settle into their roles and meet the players, while those who wanted to leave the organization could. Celtics Summer League coach and longtime assistant Tony Dobbins compared the changes along the sideline to roster departures that Boston also experienced this summer.

“Knowing (Cassell) from afar and competing against him, it’s obviously different,” Dobbins said. “I am looking forward to being able to work closely with him, but just to experience. A wealth of experience that (Lee and Cassell) bring to the table. They have seen many situations, so look forward to them. For me personally to learn from them. These are guys who are more experienced and have more years of service than I do, so I’m looking forward to picking their brains, and ultimately the goal is to help Joe as much as possible. Make Joe’s job easier. That is what the entire staff will try to do.”

Cassell hopes to center the team’s focus on winning a championship regardless of outside distractions, commitments and roster ventures. You can’t hold yourself responsible for changing the world, he said. Winning is all that matters to him upon arrival and he will make sure that is the only thing that matters to the players.

Otherwise, he wants to provide the calming presence they undoubtedly needed during some of the recent crunch moments in the playoffs. He wants the players to embrace the expectations. Some struggled to handle the criticism and attention associated with playing as the team in Boston and the NBA with the biggest championship expectations. It’s a challenge and a blessing that he saw the best in other players and could do the same for this team.

“Gee, you know, winning big in this league, there’s pressure,” Cassell said. “But sometimes you can also have fun with pressure. Pressure bursts pipes, but it can also make diamonds.”

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