PORTLAND, Maine — The Boston Celtics announced Thursday they’re assuming greater control of Portland’s NBA Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws, in a deal that crowds out the local franchise’s other big league partners.

Under the hybrid partnership unveiled officially Thursday, the Celtics will pay for and take total control of the Red Claws’ basketball operations — including the hiring and firing of players and coaches — while leaving off-court business operations to the local team’s current ownership group.

Among the first orders of business for the Celtics front office will be hiring a new head coach for the Red Claws, whose 2011-12 season skipper Dave Leitao left to take an assistant coaching job at the University of Missouri.

Previously, the Celtics were one of three NBA teams with deals in place to send up-and-coming players to Portland for development work before calling them up to the NBA level. The hybrid partnership puts into place a hierarchal relationship more like the one that exists between Major League Baseball teams and their minor league affiliates, such as the Boston Red Sox and their Double-A Portland team, the Sea Dogs.

The most notable Celtics prospect to go through Maine thus far was guard Avery Bradley, who was assigned to the Portland team during his rookie season of 2010-11. While playing for the Red Claws he tied a D-League record with nine steals in a single game. Bradley went on to replace the aging — but potential Basketball Hall-of-Famer — Ray Allen in the Celtics starting lineup this season.

“We are excited to formalize an already great relationship we have established with Maine. Not only is it a perfect fit geographically, but the people of Maine are some of our most loyal Celtic fans, and [Red Claws team chairman] Bill Ryan Jr. and the Red Claws staff have been great to work with,” Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations, said in a statement. “What a great opportunity for our young players to get game reps and develop their skills, while still maintaining the continuity and direction of our organization.”

The move was foreshadowed by the resignation last week of Red Claws General Manager Jon Jennings, who previously oversaw the addition and subtraction of coaches and players. Jennings is continuing in his role with the development team tied to The Forefront at Thompson’s Point, the $105 million event center, hotel and office project slated to begin construction this summer and ultimately serve as the Red Claws home venue.

The new partnership also precludes the Red Claws from continuing to do business with the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats and Philadelphia 76ers. Prior to the hybrid partnership, the Red Claws had equal development deals with the Bobcats, 76ers and Celtics, which allowed each of the three NBA teams to place limited numbers of prospects on the Maine roster, with a goal of allowing those players to get more playing time and develop their skills before moving up to the bigger stage.

The Celtics were the Red Claws’ only NBA partner for its first two years, starting in Maine’s inaugural 2009-10 season. The Charlotte and Philadelphia affiliations were put in place for the 2011-12 season, but now those teams will need to find new D-League partners, according to a Celtics team announcement.

The hybrid agreement between the Celtics and Red Claws represents the fifth such deal exclusively wedding an NBA franchise with a D-League affiliate.

“The Maine Red Claws have enjoyed a strong three-year partnership with the Boston Celtics, dating back to the team’s inaugural season of 2009-10, and today we enter into a new era of that relationship,” said Maine Red Claws Team Chairman Bill Ryan Jr. in a statement. “The further strengthening of this partnership can only benefit both organizations, and we look forward to seeing Celtics talent come through Maine for years to come.”


Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.