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A year ago, Will Hardy and Joe Mazzulla were bonding as Celtics assistant coaches. Now they’re facing off as head coaches.

A year ago Will Hardy was walking the Celtics sidelines as an assistant. Now he has the rebuilding Jazz in the playoff hunt.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

SALT LAKE CITY — Will Hardy and Joe Mazzulla spent less than one year together with the Celtics. Yet, Hardy wanted Mazzulla to join him on his Utah staff after he beat out Mazzulla for the Jazz job.

There is mutual admiration between Hardy, a coach of the year candidate for keeping the rebuilding Jazz in playoff contention and Mazzulla, the former interim coach who took over for the suspended Ime Udoka and led the Celtics to a standout start before being named permanent coach.

The Celtics and Jazz met Saturday for the first time since both coaches assumed their roles, and they remain close friends.


“It blows my mind we weren’t even there a whole calendar year,” Hardy said. “It feels so much longer than that. The relationships, the experiences were so much deeper than that. [Saturday] is going to be fun and weird and all that at the same time.”

Hardy joined the Celtics staff when Udoka was named coach in June 2021. Mazzulla was a holdover from Brad Stevens’s staff. The assistant coaches bonded quickly and experienced a tumultuous, but successful, lone Udoka season that ended in a trip to the NBA Finals.

“There’s a lot of people over there that I’m very, very close with,” Hardy said. “A lot of love for their staff, their players, the whole Celtics organization. It’s been a big part of my experience in the NBA, albeit only one season. It was a big change for me and my family. I had some connections there and the Celtics organization welcomed me and my family with open arms.”

Hardy said he wanted to bring Mazzulla to Utah but the Celtics countered and kept him as the primary assistant to Udoka.

“When you get an opportunity, you want to bring people in that you trust,” Hardy said. “You value their opinion and think they’re really good and Joe is one of those people.”


Said Mazzulla: “I’d like to think we made each other better on and off the court. Just his mind, the way he thinks, the way he prepares. Really got to watch him be an associate head coach and how he served Ime and how he served our staff. Just a lot of great things I learned from him.”

Horford, Smart, Williams out

Al Horford said following Friday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers that he could potentially play in his first back-to-back of the season. But that didn’t happen. The 36-year-old Horford was held out as expected and should be ready for Tuesday’s matchup with the Kings.

Marcus Smart, who played Friday despite fighting a non-COVID illness, was ruled out because of a bruised hip sustained after taking a hard screen during the Portland win. Smart remained in the game but has dealt with a series of bumps and bruises this season. Mazzulla said the injury is short term.

Robert Williams, who hasn’t played since March 3 because of a hamstring injury, could return Tuesday against the Kings. Williams is on the trip and has done some on-court work in the past few days.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.