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One-on-one with Wyc Grousbeck: Celtics owner talks playoff losses, roster changes, Joe Mazzulla, and more

"No thought of selling the team," said Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck. "I did this for love and for Celtic pride, not for any price tags. Period."Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck took part in a wide-ranging interview with the Globe in which he discussed the hard conversations that followed last season’s playoff loss to the Heat, roster changes, coach Joe Mazzulla’s future, and his own long-term plans. Responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

What stuck with you about this past season, which ended when your team’s attempt to become the first NBA team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit fell just short in the conference finals against the Heat?

I’d put the last two seasons together almost. We had really talented teams for the last two years, but inconsistency at the end of each of the last two seasons cost us. I mean, we lost to two good teams — the Warriors and the Heat. But it felt like we could have done a better job and had a better outcome. So I lump the last two seasons together and say that they were missed opportunities.

How do you juxtapose that you missed two good chances to win a title but are also clearly right on the cusp?


I just take it and move forward with it. So when I met with [president of basketball operations Brad Stevens] and [Mazzulla] after the season to plan going forward, we agreed not to bring back the exact same team again, but to be open to changing the mix and bringing in additional talent. And the result of that so far this offseason has been Kristaps Porzingis coming in and really adding, hopefully, a lot to our lineup.

What was that conversation like with Brad and Joe when you realized you needed changes rather than believing you could try again with the same group?

The general tone was, how do we take this energy we’re feeling right now that was built up over having two good seasons but then didn’t get all the way? The whole point is, how do we get to Banner 18? If we’d all agreed we should keep things the same, that would have been fine. But the idea of bringing in another talented big popped up early in the conversation, and we ended up executing on that idea.


Brad has spoken highly of Kristaps publicly. What did you hear from him that convinced you this would be the right direction?

He is a committed and now seasoned and effective player. He’s a real force. I’m really impressed with his commitment to being part of a winning Celtics team. I met with him when he came up for the press conference and spent some real time with him, and he’s so happy to be here. He’s so ready to shine at this stage of his career. But he sees a team concept, not the KP show. He’s continually improved over his career, and he thinks this is his prime.

But he’s about the team, his teammates, and the banner. He chose us. There were other people, I hear, that wanted him. And he chose us. He wants to be here and he wants to win a ring.

"He is a committed and now seasoned and effective player," Grousbeck said of Kristaps Porzingis (center). "He’s a real force."Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Obviously the addition of Kristaps led to the departure of Marcus Smart. Smart was really the backbone of this team’s swift rebuild. What will you remember most about his time here and how would you characterize your relationship?


What I remember most about Marcus is his energy and his smile. He brought so much to this team and will definitely be missed. Our friendship is going to continue. [My wife] Emilia and I are going to attend his upcoming wedding, and that’s the way he and we want it.

Mazzulla was obviously put in an unusual situation at the start of this year when he replaced Ime Udoka. How would you assess his first year as head coach?

We were in an interesting situation at the beginning of last season and Brad strongly recommended Joe for the job. And Brad feels even more strongly about him now, and I agree. Joe handled that initial transition, and eventually the entire season, incredibly well. He’s got world-class intensity, drive, and knowledge. He is fully committed to winning a championship with this group. It’s all he thinks about.

Every breath he takes is about making the Celtics better and doing a better job as a coach. He’s all-in.

You said you and Brad feel even more strongly about Joe’s future than before. What led you to that point?

If Joe had done a poor job, I would have thought about replacing him, but he did a very good job. He took us within one game of the best record in the league and then one game of being in the Finals, as a rookie coach. So I’m comfortable and happy to have Joe as head coach.


What have you thought of the job Brad has done as president of basketball operations?

He has constructed two teams that went really far and had really exciting possibilities. Even though neither team won the championship, they were playing at a high level. But he had to really double down on his work this offseason thinking about how to get bigger and better. The couple of moves he made, with KP coming, Brad has really redoubled his efforts to think through his roster.

My partners and I made it very clear to Brad that the entire goal is to win a championship, if not more than one … I think Brad’s done an excellent job and I’m hoping we can all celebrate going further this season.

Ime Udoka is back in the NBA as coach of the Rockets. What are your thoughts on his new opportunity?

I’m going to leave the Ime situation in the past. We parted ways, so I don’t have additional comment on it, except I don’t wish anybody any ill will in the league. I obviously send out good vibes to everybody, and we’re moving forward.

The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement includes a new second apron that puts even more restrictive measures in place for the highest-spending teams. What kind of directives have you given the front office about being aware of that and managing it? How has it altered the approach, if at all?

I was on the labor committee that worked on the new CBA. I’ve been on every labor committee since I got in the league. The league doesn’t allow us to comment on the details of the CBA, but having said that, we’re obviously all-in, with the record contract for Jaylen [Brown] and with our payroll this year and in coming years.


Eventually, there are basketball penalties for spending, so that will go into the thought process down the road. But at the moment, the best basketball thing we can do is what we’re doing.

Over the past year, Marc Lasry sold his stake in the Bucks for $3.5 billion and Michael Jordan sold his share of the Hornets for about $3 billion. Do you ever think about your long-term future owning this franchise?

No thought of selling the team. I did this for love and for Celtic pride, not for any price tags. Period.

You mentioned Jaylen and you were at his press event to announce his $304 million contract extension. You were in St. Louis last Monday for Jayson Tatum’s charity golf event. How do you feel about the position of these two as franchise cornerstones?

They’re the best two people I could imagine building a team around. We’ve had them since the beginning. We’ve been very lucky to have them here for their whole careers, and we’re building the team around them.

But you add the next eight guys to the list. You take our top 10 and we’ve got a really good team. The focus is naturally on those two because they’re All-NBA players and All-Stars, but I like the whole roster.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.