PORTLAND — The Maine Red Claws are finalizing their plans for the annual NBA Development League draft, which will be held 7 p.m. Thursday.

And with just one player on their roster – popular returning guard Kenny Hayes – the Red Claws have plenty of work to do. Training camp begins Nov. 12 and the season opens fewer than two weeks later.

Between now and then, the Red Claws will find players to fill out the 10-man roster. In addition to Hayes, who averaged 7.2 points in his rookie season, they also have five from tryout camps held in Philadelphia and Boston.

The rest will come from the draft, where the Red Claws have the third pick, as well as two in the second round, picks 24 and 29.

“We’re looking at everything,’’ said David Leitao, the first-year coach of the 3-year-old Red Claws. “By position, if you only have Kenny, then you’re in need of every position. I think it’s imperative that you have perimeter guys who can score, those are very tough to find.

“If you can come up with an interior post player that’s offensive, you’re really golden. But on the inside, just guys who can defend their position and have size to protect the paint … anyone who has the potential to command a double-team in the paint makes life a whole lot easier on everyone else.’’

Leitao and Jon Jennings, the team’s president and general manager, have spent the last several weeks watching film, talking to coaches and agents, and scouting prospects.

In the end, said Jennings, it always comes down to the best player.

“Right now with just one returning player, it’s not just one specific category (you’re looking at),’’ said Jennings. “If you had DeShawn Sims and Jamar (Smith) coming back, Coach and I would figure out what we really need.’’

Smith and Sims could return. They’re among six former Red Claws playing overseas. Their D-League rights are held by the Red Claws.

Beyond that, said Jennings, it’s often difficult to concentrate on one position in the draft.

“I think in terms of the draft, first, second, third, fourth, I mean … even when I was with the Celtics you think you’re going to draft for position and then someone slips,’’ said Jennings, a former assistant coach with the NBA Celtics. “And then all of a sudden your draft board is not what you thought it would be and you might draft for the player (who dropped) as opposed to your ‘needs.’

“In our league, our needs change  potentially every day, so we really have to focus on the kind of game Coach Leitao wants to coach, and the best talent available.’’

And that means drafting players who play defense well. Leitao has a great reputation as a defensive coach.

“You don’t get to play offense until you get the ball,’’ said Leitao. “So you got to defend and rebound.’’
The two like having the third pick, figuring there’s going to be a stud at that point. Having two in the second round will help as well. In each case, the team is going to acquire players who are athletic.

“Part of the whole roster building,’’ said Leitao, “is that you can figure out when you get the guys here  how you can use their assets. Again, if you have a decent amount of athletes then you can get out and put pressure on the defense immediately.’’

Jennings said he relied heavily on Leitao’s contacts to help prepare for the draft. Leitao, who didn’t coach the last two years, had coached NCAA Division I basketball for 25 years as either an assistant (at Connecticut) or head coach (Northeastern, DePaul and Virginia).

He either coached against, or recruited, many of the players who are eligible for this draft.

The task, he said, is now projecting them to the pro level.

“It’s a whole different level of basketball,’’ he said. “So can you project that what they did successfully can translate to success at this level. That’s a tough thing.’’

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH