March 10, 2010

Red Claws, Celtics make their partnership official

MIKE LOWE

— By

click image to enlarge

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer; Monday, June 29 , 2009. The Maine Red Claws chairman Bill Ryan Jr. announces his new team affiliation with the Charlotte Bobcats and the Boston Celtics at a rally today at Monument Square in Portland.

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The Maine Red Claws will, indeed, be tinged with green. Celtics green that is.

In making official what had been one of the worst kept secrets in recent Maine sports history, the Red Claws announced Monday morning that they will be affiliated with the Boston Celtics, ending nearly four months of speculation that the teams would be joined.

With a small but enthusiastic crowd looking on at Monument Square under overcast, drizzly skies, Jon Jennings, the president and general manager of the Red Claws, also announced that the NBA Development League expansion team will be jointly affiliated with the Charlotte Bobcats, the NBA team partly owned by Michael Jordan and coached by legend Larry Brown.

''This is a great day, despite the weather,'' said Jennings. ''This will have a long-lasting impact, not only on our franchise, but the city of Portland and the greater state of Maine.''

The Celtics-Red Claws association had been hinted at since the birth of the Red Claws, when Celtics President Rich Gotham, Celtics legend K.C. Jones and a couple players -- including possible Red Claw Bill Walker -- joined city and state officials in announcing the team had secured a franchise on Feb. 25.

Jennings, a former Celtics assistant coach, made no attempt to hide his desire to join the Celtics' family again. And Boston, which was affiliated with the D-League franchise in Provo, Utah, was more than eager to move its players closer to the East Coast.

''When we heard they were coming to Portland, with Mr. (Bill) Ryan buying the team and K.C. Jones being there, it was all very exciting for us,'' said Danny Ainge, general manager of the Celtics, in a conference call. ''We're thrilled to have a partner with Celtics ties in the past and (who) knows the NBA and knows our needs.''

With players being less than two hours away from Boston, Ainge envisions days when the players practice in the morning with the Red Claws and dress at night with the Celtics. There were times, Ainge said, when the Celtics would send a player to Utah to get some playing time, only to need him back the next day because of an injury.

''I think the proximity of Portland to Boston is going to be a great blessing for us and allow so much more benefit and bang for the buck in our association with the Development League,'' said Ainge.

Jennings, who allowed team chairman Bill Ryan Jr. to announcement the affiliation with the Celtics while he spoke of the Bobcats, said the Celtics' affiliation should greatly benefit the fledgling franchise. The Red Claws have already sold 914 season tickets -- tops in the D-League in both number and revenue -- and this announcement should push that number up even more.

''Can you just imagine seeing players like (J.R.) Giddens and Walker in the intimacy of the Expo?'' Jennings asked. ''That's all we need. That just about sells itself. I think between the Celtics and the Bobcats, you're going to be able to see some really great young talent in Portland.

''I think that's going to take us to an even greater level.''

D-League teams carry a 12-man roster. NBA teams can send two first- or second-year players at any one time to its affiliate, with the rest of the players being free agents selected in November's draft. Players recalled to the NBA can be sent to the D-League a total of three times.

Celtics players eligible for the Red Claws' roster include second-year players Walker and Giddens, and this year's second-round draft pick, Lester Hudson, a guard from Tennessee-Martin.

From the Bobcats, the list of eligible players includes this year's draft picks, Gerald Henderson of Duke and Derrick Brown of Xavier, as well as second-year players D.J. Augustin, Sean Singletary, Dontell Jefferson, Cartier Martin and 7-footer Alexis Ajinca.

Jennings said he contacted the Bobcats about five months ago regarding the affiliation. He has past relationships with both Jordan and Brown. He also did an analysis of NBA teams, noting which ones had the most second-round picks -- the players most likely to be sent to the D-League.

''Charlotte had accumulated a lot of second-round picks,'' said Jennings. ''There's the potential for a lot of players to be coming to Portland.''

Brown, one of the game's winningest coaches, sent a note to the team expressing his confidence in the agreement.

''There's no better place in the D-League to send our prospects,'' said Brown. The Bobcats sent their prospects to Sioux Falls, S.D., last year.

It's the Celtics affiliation that has Jennings and his group excited, however.

''It is honestly a dream come true,'' he said. ''When we started this effort almost two years ago, actually over two years ago, it was always a goal of ours to be affiliated with the Celtics. We started this even before Kevin Garnett came to Boston. We wanted to be part of the Celtics, regardless.

''Then Danny made a great trade and brought them another championship. We're thrilled to be part of what they're doing in Boston.''

Ryan Jr., co-owner of the Red Claws with his father, said the Celtics were not only the first choice but the natural choice. He grew up outside of Boston and attended many games in the old Boston Garden. ''So it was natural not only from a business, but also a personal perspective,'' he said.

He's just glad that the affiliation is finally official.

''We've talked about it for a while, now it's a reality,'' said Ryan Jr. ''Everything is falling into place the way we hoped. Maybe even better.''

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

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