Good enough to play in the NBA. A lot of them, at least, according to Maine Red Claws coach Austin Ainge, son of Danny. (Paul Flannery, WEEI)
This becomes very important when you consider the second thing to understand about the D-League: Every player in the league feels like they can play in the NBA, if only they got the right opportunity.
“It’s a very honest statement,” said 34-year-old veteran Billy Thomas, who has had four stints in the NBA during his career. “You have to be lucky in this game. That boils down to a lot of factors.”
The most common refrain you will hear around the D-League is that there is little difference between the top players in the D and the end-of-the-bench players in the NBA.
“There’s no difference,” said first-year Red Claws coach Austin Ainge, the son of the Celtics president and general manager. “You can see it by the guys that get sent down. Some of the guys that get sent down here aren’t very good players in this league. Other guys are really good. That doesn’t mean there’s a lot of rotation players in the D-League. The difference between the top eight and the 13th man can be pretty significant.”
Ainge later said one of the biggest hurdles for D-Leaguers to overcome is a belief that NBA call-ups are determined solely by statistics.
“The hardest thing to get them to understand is that the people who evaluate them are coaches and basketball people,” Ainge said. “They are going to look at more than the box score. You have to play to win. Othyus Jeffers didn’t have the best stats. He got called up by the Jazz. Play to win. That’s the message. At every level, people think you just look at the box score, but that’s not how it is. Garrett Temple has been signed by two different teams. He averaged nine points a game in college and 13 points a game in the D-League. It’s not just points.”
In the second part of Flannery’s soon-to-be four-part series, he discusses the Maine Red Claws organization. One of the best-run organizations in professional basketball, the Red Claws manage to maintain sell-out crowds in a league where sellouts are few and far between
“It’s been a fever pitch, man,” said veteran swingman Billy Thomas. “From the beginning, the fans have been amped about it. There’s been a buzz around the city. It’s been that way every home game. They really have a passion for the Red Claws and what we’ve been able to accomplish. It’s a nice fit for our league to have a 3,000-seat building.” [...]
“By far this has been the best D-League situation I’ve ever been in, as far as the fans, the organization, the coaches,” [Maurice] Ager said. “It’s exciting to go to the games and know we’ve got a sold-out house.”
Be it ever so humble, the Expo has become home.
“It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, and quite frankly, we don’t care,” Jennings said. “What we care about is that it is by far the best home environment in the D-League. We have a raucous crowd.”
If you care anything at all about the D-League, check out Flannery’s series.