(Editor’s note: Paul Flannery recently spent some time with the NBA Development League’s Main Red Claws, who are affiliated with the Celtics. He documented his observations about the organization, the players and the fans, who regularly fill to capacity the team’s home arena. Here’s Part 3 of his four-part series.)
PORTLAND, Maine — They all know why they’re here, even if they don’t actually agree with the assessment. Someone, somewhere (actually 30 someones) has deemed them not worthy of a place in the NBA.
To a man, every player in the D-League believes they are good enough to play in the NBA. Some believe it’s a matter of opportunity. Others believe timing plays a crucial role. Get yourself in the right place at the right time and impress the right people, and all that the NBA has to offer is there for the taking.
They’re all right to some degree, and every D-League player can rattle off the name of some end-of-the-bench NBA vet who’s outlived his usefulness and wouldn’t be there except for that long-term guaranteed contract.
But here they are. The ones who ultimately prosper not only understand the reality of the situation, they also apply that knowledge into action on the court. This is not always easy, for when you’ve always relied on your talent and praise from others tends to come from the numbers in the box score, it can mess with your mind.
“[Understanding that] saves them a lot of time and travel and disappointment,” D-League vet Billy Thomas said. “A lot of frustrating nights. Teams want to watch guys that know how to play. You got to be able to put the ball in the hole, sure, but understand how to fit in a team. Not everyone is capable of being the guy that can average 20 points. But what are the goals of the team?”
This is the constant struggle of the D-League, along with the travel and low pay.
They all have a story to tell. Here are three of them:
Billy Thomas figures he’s going to have some fun with his visitor. Slipping on his headphones, Thomas says in all seriousness, “Man, I got no rap for you today. I don’t feel like talking.”
His visitor shrugs. Not the first time he’s heard that. Not even the first time this week. Then Thomas breaks into a huge grin. Of course he has time to talk. Billy Thomas loves to talk. (more…)