The Boston Celtics need to make smart personal decisions around the fringes, they need Maine Red Claws more than ever.
The NBA’s development league, the G League, is a growing entity. According to the league’s homepage, 52% of all players on end-of-season NBA rosters had G League experience. While this number might be an exaggeration due to late-season transactions, the G League has an impressive active alumni thriving in the NBA, including such quality players as Khris Middleton, Rudy Gobert, Pascal Siakam and Robert Covington.
Despite the growth of the G League, some teams may look to the EuroLeague or Australian National Basketball League for both development and player acquisition purposes. The current base salary for a G League player is $35,000. Players on two-way contracts make much more money depending on the number of times they see time on an NBA floor. Many players, for financial purposes, decide to play elsewhere. Others, however, see the G League as the only route to the NBA.
Some may laugh at the low contracts and lack of media coverage, but some teams seem to have mastered G League player development. The Toronto Raptors are one of those teams.
The Raptors G League affiliate, the Raptors 905, were responsible for grooming the likes of Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, and Chris Boucher. Boucher, last season, won both the G League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Award. The Houston Rockets are another team that developed quality players in their G League system with Clint Capela, Montrezl Harrell, and Danuel House Jr. all spending significant time on the Rio Grande Valley Vipers during the early stages of their careers.
The Boston Celtics affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, are still trying to achieve a Raptors 905 level in terms of player development. In the lottery, the Celtics drafted well. Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum were all able to develop within the confines of the Celtics system. Brad Stevens and Co. seem willing to give young players opportunities, limited as they may be, to grow in the league.
Outside the lottery, in recent years, the Celtics have had struggles developing their prospects. Terry Rozier is an exception as he spent 14 games during the 2015-16 season on the Red Claws. There are other late second round and undrafted players who have been through the Red Claws system. Some fill out a final roster spot, others carved out substantial rotation spots.
Red Claw Alumni who are still around and have made an impact
TW = Two-Way Contract
- Abdel Nader Oklahoma City Thunder
- Damion Lee Golden State Warriors
- Rodney McGruder Los Angeles Clippers
Red Claw Alumni who are still around with NBA contracts
- Kadeem Allen (TW) New York Knicks
- Tim Fraizer Detroit Pistons
- Malcolm Miller Toronto Raptors
- PJ Dozier (TW) Denver Nuggets
Not every late first-round pick can be a Jimmy Butler, but the history tied to player development within the Red Claw system is not the best of pictures. Players such as James Young, R.J. Hunter and Guerschon Yabusele, all first-round picks, spent serious time on the Red Claws, yet struggled to make an NBA roster and are now out of the NBA picture.
This trend on non-lottery picks failing to pan out in the Red Claws system needs to change, especially this year. The Red Claws play a vital role, given the number of young talented players and limited playing time. So far, three of the four recent Celtics draftees spent some time on the floor for the Red Claws, along with big men Tacko Fall and Vincent Poirier.
Currently, Tremont Waters, along with Yante Maten and Auburn guard Bryce Brown, both undrafted, are playing standout basketball, and they are winning games. They, along with help from Carsen Edwards, Tacko Fall, and Kaiser Gates, have led the Red Claws to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference behind the Wisconsin Herd.
Tremont Waters, in particular, has played phenomenally. Currently, he ranks seventh in assists 19th in scoring and 13th in player efficiency, as well as winning the G League Player of the Week award on January 13th. This is a great sign, but the hope is for this success to translate on the NBA floor.
So why is this important?
Why should Celtics fans care about the Maine Red Claws? Can’t Boston get another top-notch free agent? Yes, they signed Gordan Hayward and Kemba Walker. Both those guys are in their hypothetical prime, and their timelines coincide well with Tatum, Smart and Brown’s development. Can’t Danny Ainge take advantage of another desperate win-now owner, willing to waste half a decade’s worth of future lottery picks? If so, the team should be set for the next ten years. Right?
The answer to most of these questions is probably no. Most teams are likely wary of making any deal with the Celtics. Yes, the team looks great now and for the immediate future, but in terms of surrounding this team with capable rotation pieces, the Celtics are now hard-pressed to develop their slew of draft picks using the Red Claws system. The Celtics are also slated to have more than one first-round pick in both the 2020 and 2021 drafts, putting even more pressure on the G League affiliate to develop internal talent for the future.
While there are capable and useful players on the trade and free-agent scene, they likely come at a high price, and will require time to learn the Celtics system. If the team values Jayson Tatum as much as they valued Jaylen Brown, they will need to make smart decisions around the fringes, both money and talent-wise. Relying on internal G League talent to surround this young core is a plausible solution for the future, and one the Celtics should consider heading towards.
The Red Claws, who’ve struggled with development in the past, should feel pressure to get Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters, and Romeo Langford up to speed with the NBA game. Can Tremont Waters or Carsean Edwards become the next Fred VanVleet? Can they both achieve an above replacement level status on the Celtics? Why not?
Perhaps this new generation of young Celtics can set the tone within the Red Claws organization and make it a player development powerhouse similar to the Raptors 905.