PORTLAND – When Chris Wright entered the TD Garden in Boston Wednesday night, it was as a fan. He, along with the rest of the Maine Red Claws, were guests of the Boston Celtics.

Wright had an NBA flashback.

“It was kind of funny walking out there and thinking, last year I was on that court,” said Wright. He began last season with the Red Claws, but played only four games before signing with the Golden State Warriors.

Now Wright is back with Maine, on a team that appears to be the best in the Red Claws’ short history.

The Red Claws (2-0) play the Los Angeles D-Fenders (1-0) in Maine’s home opener tonight at 7 p.m., at the Portland Expo.

“This is a great group of guys, one of the best teams I’ve been a part of,” Wright said. “I’m not just saying that because of the NBA guys, but guys who know the game.”

Maine not only has players with NBA experience (Wright, point guard Shelvin Mack and guard Xavier Silas), but two NBA rookies sent from from the Celtics — forward Kris Joseph and center Fab Melo. Plus forward Micah Downs is shining, after spending the preseason in the Celtics camp.

“We got several guys that the NBA has their eyes on,” Red Claws Coach Mike Taylor said.

The 6-foot-8 Wright is drawing attention after his opening weekend last week — averaging 21 points and 10.5 rebounds, while shooting 55 percent.

The weekly “Prospect Watch” on the D-League website (www.nba.com/dleague) ranks Wright as the No. 2 prospect in the league.

For Wright, it’s a matter of doing more with less. Always considered an athletic player who can leap through the roof and play defense on instincts, Wright’s game is becoming more cerebral.

“My decision making overall (is improved),” he said. “I’m not going out rushing and trying force plays, but run plays all the way through.

“On the defensive end, I’m understanding schemes and not just trying to outplay everyone and be overly aggressive.”

And Wright’s jump shot is better. He keeps working on it, like taking shot after shot Thursday, following practice.

Taylor looked on and smiled.

“Chris Wright has been outstanding on the court and off the court,” Taylor said. “Obviously he’s a tremendous athlete. He’s slowed his game down a little bit. He’s shooting the ball extremely well from the perimeter.

“What I like about him is his leadership and his character. He’s a great guy. When you get a chance to coach super talents who are also good people, it’s really fantastic.”

Wright keeps waiting for his next chance. The Warriors did not keep him after last year, and the Toronto Raptors signed him. But Toronto did not play Wright in any exhibition games and eventually waived him.

“I didn’t get much of a chance, but I learned so much from Coach (Dwayne) Casey and his staff,” Wright said. “I understand it’s a process. I’m really happy where I am as a player.

“Last year at this time, my skills were not as good as they are now.”

Wright could have taken those skills to Europe for more lucrative paydays than what he’s receiving in the NBA’s minor league.

“I had a few offers,” Wright said. “But I’m only 24 years old, and development is a lot more important to me than going and chasing a check.”

That development continues in Maine.

“I just have to be patient and stay humble,” he said. “You never know when your name is going to get called. You have to be ready.”

NOTES: With Celtics possibly short-handed tonight, with forwards Jeff Green (sprained knee) and Chris Wilcox (ill) questionable, there was speculation that Joseph might get sent back to Boston. But no announcement was made and Joseph practiced in Portland Thursday. Joseph leads Maine in scoring with 25.5 points per game. The Los Angeles D-Fenders have two players from their parent club, the Lakers: 6-2 guard Darius Johnson and 7-foot center Robert Sacre. Johnson scored 30 points in his first game, and Sacre added 10 points and 13 rebounds. Former University of Maine guard Raheem Singleton, who was cut by the Red Claws on Monday, has accepted the team’s invitation to remain with the club as a practice player.


Staff writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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