PORTLAND

It’s unlikely that any of the 16 training camp players with the Maine Red Claws pictured their journey to the NBA including a stop in Portland.

Short of a spot on an NBA roster, though, at least four of the Red Claws know they could be in places far less conducive to finding their hoop dreams.

Marcus Georges-Hunt, Jalen Jones, Damion Lee and Abdel Nader all spent time as members of the Boston Celtics organization in the last five months. All will likely be playing for their NBA Development League affiliate, the Red Claws, when they open the season in Oklahoma City tonight.

Nader is the only member of the quartet drafted by the Celtics. A second-round selection (58th overall) last June, he is a “draft rights” player. That meant the Red Claws could sign him while the Celtics retained his draft rights.

Nader’s performance for the Celtics’ NBA Summer League team made them more eager to retain those rights. The 6-foot-8 forward from Iowa State was the team’s second-leading scorer in Las Vegas, averaging 10 points per game.

“It was a hell of an experience. I learned a lot,” Nader said. “I’m definitely trying to carry it over to their D-League team here in Maine and hopefully keep learning the system with coach Morrison and hopefully be a Celtic someday.”

The Celtics did not tender Nader a contract to participate in their training camp and he considered offers to play overseas before agreeing to sign with the Red Claws.

The remaining trio, meanwhile, played in the summer league for various other organizations but did participate in Boston’s training camp. All three are designated as “affiliate players,” which means they can be signed by any NBA team. But spending six weeks with the Celtics and starting their NBDL careers in the same system and organization could get them to the NBA quicker.

“(Celtics training camp) was a chance to learn from a great coaching staff, a great organization and pick up some things to help my game,” said Georges-Hunt, a 6-foot-6 guard from Georgia Tech. “The transition to here, where they run pretty much everything the same, I just feel more comfortable knowing what I have to do and the little things they look for.”

”Being there for six weeks and being able to learn the system and learn the culture, it’s helped a lot,” Lee said. “Coming here, it’s sort of fast tracking knowing a little bit of what we’re going to run. Now, it’s helping the guys that are newer to the system while getting better.”

Lee, a 6-foot-6 guard who transferred to Louisville for his senior season after three years at Drexel, may benefit the most from the NBDL’s run-and-gun style. He averaged 15.9 points per game playing for former Celtics coach Rick Pitino at Louisville. Before that, he was the nation’s fourth-leading scorer as a junior at Drexel, averaging 21.4 ppg. He felt the Celtics’ system, which the Red Claws run, can play to his strengths.

“The main thing (in the Celtics system) is paint touches and ball movement,” Lee said. “I think the way basketball is transitioning now, that’s really all that the game is — You look to get a paint threat and you look to space and shoot threes or get to the basket.”

Jones likes staying in the Celtics system as well, though for a totally different reason. He was an all-SEC selection for Texas A&M last year because of his versatility. At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, he’s capable of defending at a number of positions, a trait he noticed Celtics coaches value during preseason.

“A bunch of those guys can guard one through five and I feel like I can as well,” he said. “How they use their players, I think fits me.”

Third-year Red Claws coach Scott Morrison, who has led the team to the playoffs the last two years, will try to figure out who fits his team before making cuts on Nov. 10. By then, everyone will be picturing Portland as an important step in finding their way to the NBA.

Maine’s season opener is on Nov. 17 against Long Island. Tip-off is 7 p.m.


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