The Boston Celtics will look noticeably different this season, both on the court and on the bench.
While Boston's personnel changes have drawn the most headlines -- Kristaps Porzingis, Oshae Brissett, Dalano Banton and rookie Jordan Walsh are in, while Marcus Smart, Grant Williams, Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala are out -- the Celtics also made several coaching changes, bringing in a pair of veteran assistants in Sam Cassell and Charles Lee (among others) to support head coach Joe Mazzulla.
Cassell is the most notable hire: The 53-year-old won a championship with Boston as a player in 2008 and has spent the past nine seasons as Doc Rivers' right-hand man on the Los Angeles Clippers (2014-2020) and Philadelphia 76ers (2020-2023).
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Cassell brings to Boston a direct style of communication that helped him get the most out of superstars like Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Joel Embiid and James Harden in his previous stops.
"I’m just very truthful with players, man," Cassell told Heavy.com's Steve Bulpett recently. "Sometimes they don’t like it, but I speak the truth. I speak to the game plan of the head coach, and I tell them what the head coach expects.
"Sometimes players try to be reluctant to take that, but I think I have a way that I can be 100% honest with a player without them taking it personally. And that’s a trait that I know I have."
Cassell's wealth of NBA experience gives him extra cachet; the former first-round pick and one-time All-Star enjoyed a 15-year NBA career with eight different teams while filling a wide variety of roles.
"I’m a great listener to players; I’m a former player, so I understand what they’re going through," Cassell said. "Like I tell them all the time, I’ve been each player on a team, from the top guy to the 15th player. I’ve been all those guys. I understand what those guys are going through mentally."
Cassell's voice should carry plenty of weight on Mazzulla's staff, which lacked that experience late last season following Damon Stoudamire's departure for Georgia Tech. The Celtics also lost two strong locker room voices in Smart and Williams this offseason, while Porzingis brings a different personality that may lead to an early adjustment period from a chemistry perspective.
While Mazzulla will call the shots as head coach, it will be up to Cassell, Lee and the rest of the staff to act as liaisons with the players and ensure they're staying on task. Cassell has plenty of experience working with star duos, so expect him to play a key role in the development of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who appeared to respond well to the similarly-direct coaching style of Mazzulla's predecessor, Ime Udoka.
We shouldn't overstate the importance of an assistant coach, and Boston's chances of raising Banner 18 ultimately falls on the shoulders of Tatum, Brown, Porzingis and their supporting cast. But Cassell absolutely can be a difference-maker by bringing accountability to the locker room and helping the team stay focused after a summer of transition.