PORTLAND — Billy Thomas has played basketball in a lot of places.

Nowhere has he welcomed more new teammates than here, in the inaugural season of the Maine Red Claws.

”Nothing quite like this,” said Thomas with a grin.

Even players need a scorecard to keep track of the roster this season, a phenomenon that is the rule, not the exception, for the ever-changing teams of the NBA Development League.

Maine has just three players on its roster left from opening night. The team’s transaction sheet is filled with more than 40 moves since the team was formed in the fall. Eight are via trades. Another five players have been called up or sent down by the NBA, resulting in 12 moves. Add another 20-something moves from dropping or acquiring players in reaction to call-ups or injuries.

”It’s been a learning curve,” said forward Darnell Lazare. ”The frequency by which it happens has been somewhat of an eye-opener and some transactions are easier than others. But it’s the nature of this league. And at the end of the day you’ve got to be professional and get the job done.”

Last week, Maine picked up Morris Almond and TJ Cummings from Springfield for Noel Felix and Tony Bobbitt.

Almond and Cummings will make their debuts in Portland tonight against Fort Wayne.

The latest move left Thomas, Lazare and Anthony Terrell as the lone Red Claws here for the duration.

A typical D-League roster has about five players who stick around all season, said Chris Alpert, the league’s vice president of basketball operations and player personnel.

”They have had it all in Maine,” said Alpert. ”When your roster is in flux week to week, it’s very challenging to develop chemistry and any type of continuity. They’ve handled it extremely well.”

”When guys come in they have to work a little harder to fit into what we’ve got,” said Lazare. ”It’s definitely a challenge. You need to understand that guy’s style. It matters how quick guys settle into their spot.”

Through it all, the Red Claws have stayed near the top in the standings. They are 20-13, sitting in second place in the East Conference.

But it’s never easy, said Jon Jennings, the team’s president and general manager, who signs off on any moves not related to players with NBA contracts.

”We have to do what’s in the best interest of the Red Claws,” said Jennings. ”Sometimes it’s about what’s on the court. Sometimes it’s team chemistry. You’re a basketball scout sometimes, other times you have to be a psychologist. Either way you have to be vigilant.”

There are also a few rules when it comes to making moves, said Coach Austin Ainge. First, give it a minute.

”You try not to judge a trade in the first two games afterwards,” said Ainge. ”You know it’ll take a couple of weeks to get everybody playing together.”

Second, remember it’s business.

”We’ll miss those guys. You miss them on a personal level,” he said. ”But you try to take your feelings out of the business part of it.”

The loss of Felix in particular, seemed to hit the locker room.

”I was at home when I heard the news and was devastated by it,” said Thomas. ”He was our glue guy. He kept all of us together. Something happens, he was the bridge.”

But they move on, trying to create chemistry with their new teammates.

”We recognize how important team chemistry is,” said Thomas. ”You get that down, and the roster up and changes. It can really throw you out of your groove. But it is the nature of the business.”

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

[email protected]