November 30, 2012

Red Claws turn Celtics green

It's the first year of partnering only with Boston, a 'dream scenario' for Maine's team

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — When they run onto the Portland Expo floor for the opening game of their 2012-13 home schedule at 7 p.m. Friday, the Maine Red Claws won't be in their regular white-and-red uniforms. Instead, they'll wear the colors of the Boston Celtics -- white and green.

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Danny Ainge, president of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics, visits the Maine Red Claws front office last June in Portland. Under a new single-affiliation agreement, the Celtics run basketball operations for Maine’s team.

2012 Press Herald file/Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Fab Melo
click image to enlarge

The 7-foot Fab Melo is one of two Celtics rookies playing for the Red Claws to begin the year. His college teammate at Syracuse, Kris Joseph, is the other.

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PUTTING TOGETHER A D-LEAGUE TEAM

NBA D-League basketball teams have a minimum of 10 players on their rosters. A maximum of three NBA players can be added to a D-League team, for a total of 13. This is how a team is assembled (including players on this year’s Red Claws team):

Returning players: Teams can invite players from their rosters in previous years (Justin Brownlee, Champ Oguchi, Xavier Silas, Chris Wright).

Tryout players: Teams can invite players from open tryouts held before the season (none on Maine’s team).

Draft: The league conducts an eight-round draft of available players who have signed D-League contracts (Shelvin Mack, Omar Reed, Scott VanderMeer).

Trade: Deals for players can be made with other D-League teams (Chris Ayer).

Affiliate players: A player who is cut from his NBA team in the preseason can join that team’s D-League affiliate (Brian Cusworth, Micah Downs).

Assigned players: NBA players with two years of experience or less can be assigned to the affiliated D-League team (Kris Joseph, Fab Melo).

FOR MORE

Stories, photos, bios and more on our Red Claws page.

No, there isn't a problem with the team's identity. That identity, team officials say, has never been stronger.

When you think of the Red Claws, the team also wants you to think of the Celtics, the basketball franchise with 17 NBA championships.

This is Maine's fourth season in the NBA D-League -- pro basketball's version of the minor leagues -- and its first as the sole affiliate of the Celtics. In a new agreement, the Celtics run the basketball operations for the Portland team.

Both teams call it a win-win agreement. The Celtics get to run the team the way they want, using their own coaches and implementing their playing style. And the Red Claws get the Celtics' expertise -- as well as a player or two -- while marketing themselves as a partner with the legendary team.

"This is a dream scenario for us," said Red Claws President Bill Ryan Jr. "Right from the beginning, it was important to be affiliated with the Celtics. This enhanced affiliation definitely helps."

In its first three seasons, Maine was an affiliate to multiple teams -- the Celtics and Charlotte Bobcats in the first two years, with the Philadelphia 76ers making it a trio last season.

Now, it's just Boston and Maine.

"Celtics -- that's the focus for the fans here," Ryan said. "The closer we can identify ourselves with the Celtics, the better."

Thus the Celtics uniforms for the home opener against the Los Angeles D-Defenders, the affiliate of the Los Angeles Lakers. And in a nod to Boston's intense rivalry with the Lakers -- which has often spurred thunderous chants of "Beat LA" at the Boston Garden -- the first 1,000 fans at the Expo will receive "Beat LA" T-shirts.

As if that isn't enough, tonight's honorary captain for the Red Claws is former Celtics great Dave Cowens.

SEA DOGS: A SUCCESSFUL BLUEPRINT

The Red Claws have enjoyed popularity, selling out every home game in their first two years in the 3,025-seat Expo, then 15 of their 24 home games last season.

The new affiliation with Boston can't hurt. The Red Claws can just ask their neighbors at Hadlock Field how that works out.

When the Portland Sea Dogs became an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox in 2003, a successful minor league baseball franchise became even more popular, not only in attendance, but through media coverage around New England.

The Sea Dogs have showcased future stars for the Red Sox, including Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. And current Red Sox players have come to Hadlock, working their way back from injuries. The most notable was David Ortiz.

And as the Red Claws will have Cowens at the Expo for their home opener, the Sea Dogs have welcomed former Red Sox greats to Hadlock Field, including Jim Rice, Dwight Evans and Fred Lynn.

But comparing baseball and basketball minor league operations can go only so far.

Baseball has built up a network of minor league teams over many decades. Each Major League Baseball team has several minor league affiliates. The Red Sox have seven -- three rookie teams, two lower-level Class A teams, then Portland (Double-A) and Pawtucket, R.I. (Triple-A).

There are only 16 NBA D-League teams, servicing 30 NBA teams.

The Red Sox employ about 175 minor league players each year. The organization has control over them for as long as six years, so they cannot leave for other organizations, even if it means a promotion.

(Continued on page 2)

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