Wednesday, June 19, 2013
PORTLAND - The Maine Red Claws don't have a head coach or an assistant. The team has no players on its roster. It doesn't have a general manager, at least not in the usual sense, and the new season begins in about four months.
Austin Ainge, the former coach of the Red Claws, now is part of a management team that will be looking for players to bring a winning team to Maine.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
After three seasons in Portland, the team has yet to reach the NBA Development League playoffs. Savvy fans may understand the league's mission to expose young players and hasten their transition to the NBA. But does the turnover have to be so unrelenting?
Other teams cope and win. Why not the Red Claws?
Such is life in the NBA Development League, where so much seems to be done on the fly. Unless you're a young NBA lifer and know better. Not much fazes Austin Ainge.
He was the first Red Claws coach three years ago and now is the Boston Celtics' director of player personnel. That he's the son of Danny Ainge, former star player and the Celtics' general manager, gives him a certain balance. Don't call it a safety net; there is no such thing in professional sports unless you're related to the owner.
Austin Ainge's summer to-do list? "I have to find a coach. Someone who works well with young talent."
Help the Celtics set up their fall training camp. Scout and evaluate talent. That never stops. Help draw up a wish list for the league draft in November. "Talent wins basketball games. It's always talent. You can't have bad guys. You need good players first. The intangibles come later."
The Celtics no longer share the Red Claws affiliation with Charlotte and Philadelphia. The braintrust is in Boston, which will be different. Jon Jennings brought the Red Claws to Portland. Other men held ownership but the team was Jennings' baby. He nourished it from his office on Portland's Congress Street.
Now you can't find his name on the team web page. He walked in the spring to oversee the Thompson's Point development project in Portland. It's to be the Red Claws' new home.
Ainge was back on the court Wednesday at the Portland Expo, watching dozens of young basketball players show off their skills and their court sense. He didn't appear to be making mental notes to invite any of them to a Red Claws tryout. This was the Junior Red Claws basketball camp for ages 7 to 15.
"If you ask me what's more rewarding, I'd have to say coaching," Ainge said. "Your impact is greater. But the job has a lot of highs and lows with each game."
Head coaches wrap their minds around the little picture usually. Directors of player personnel or general managers see the much bigger picture.
On the Red Claws' staff listing, the role of general manager says this: Boston Celtics Basketball Operations Department. A committee of four, although Ainge should be its face even if he's not in the Expo for every home game.
Under Jennings, the Red Claws were different from the Sea Dogs and Pirates. As different, say, as an Old Port restaurant is from one of the franchise eateries around the Maine Mall. No longer. The Red Claws are closer to the franchise model, getting more from corporate.
Should you care? Only if you start believing you don't get what you pay for.
That players come and go, many looking for bigger paychecks in Europe and Asia, will happen for as long as the top D-League salary is $25,000, plus room and board for five months. Better players can get 10 times that overseas.
"We give them better exposure here," said Ainge. "We give them the same rules and the same system as they'll play in the NBA."
He understands. Players follow their hearts or follow the realities of the bigger and surer payday.
Kenny Hayes is a coach this week at the camp. He's played for the Red Claws for two seasons and may start or come back later for a third. The Red Claws need more like Hayes, even as he wants to move on.
"I love being here. I've said that before. I wouldn't be playing if it wasn't for the opportunities I'm getting here. But I want to win, too. I think most of the guys who get called up are off winning teams."
Applauding development is nice. Applauding winning is better.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: