Austin Ainge, The Coach of the D-League Maine Red Claws took the time to sit down with Celtics 24/7 and answer a few questions about the Claws, playing ball, growing up and future aspirations to make big loot in blogging.
Jamie Canu: Last season season the Maine Red Claws finished right in the middle of the pack of the Eastern Conference and very respectable at 27-23 for a first year team. Every team aims to win the title, but realistically what are the goals the Red Claws need to reach this season?
Coach Austin Ainge: We hope to help players reach their potential and improve to the point where they are called up to help NBA teams. We expect to develop the players sent down to us by our affiliates. Lastly we expect to make the playoffs and contend for a D-League title. Obviously, we set more specific goals based on what our roster looks like at any given time.
JC: What is more important in the NBDL in the eyes of the powers that be, player development or winning games? Are there more expectations on one or the other?
AA: Depends on who you think the “powers to be” is. At the franchise level we feel both are important with maybe a slight lean toward winning games for our loyal fans that support us. I think that NBA teams would only care about players developing to help their teams. I think the NBA D-League cares about both because they need our league to survive financially but also help the game develop and improve the product that is the NBA game.
JC: There was a lot of bad-mouthing that you got the coaching job because you are the son of Danny Ainge, Celtics Legend and current Team President. Yet prior to the MRC you worked as a scout in the Celtics organization, an asst coach at Southern Utah and not to mention a player at BYU. Is this first season at Maine enough to silence the doubters?
AA: I am not sure if there was a lot of bad-mouthing. I didn’t encounter much if any. I usually only worry about what people I work with think. I don’t bother reading message boards. We did set a record for D-League wins by an expansion franchise, but I feel we could have done much better. I am not satisfied myself so I hope to be better every day.
JC: You were a solid player at BYU and you are still young, do you ever dream about lacing up the Nikes and trying to replicate that 3pt touch you had with the Cougars as a player/coach for Maine?
AA: I do miss playing. I love the game and I challenge the guys to 1-on-1 after practice sometimes and I will jump in in practice sometimes if we are short on numbers. I love coaching as well and I am focused that now. I think it would be a challenge to be a player/coach. I prefer to yell at the guys for getting beat on defense without them seeing me get beat.
JC: The strain of a D-League personnel must be hard knowing that just as you start to get a dominant player he is likely to be taken away and moved to the parent club. As a D-League team your job was successful bringing a prospect along, but it has to hurt as a coach going out to win without the star, how do you handle call-ups?
AA: That is a challenge of our league, but it is a great learning experience for me as a coach. I am constantly having to adjust and tweak based on personnel and try to find a way to win despite major changes.
JC: You had solid production from guys like Russell Robinson and Morris Almond to just name a few, do you expect to see them on an NBA roster one day?
AA: I think those players, along with others could all find their way in the League. So much depends, like all professions, on timing and opportunity. The talent separation between the bottom of the NBA and the top of the D-Leauge is negligible. Many players could succeed in the right system if given a chance.
JC: As a coach it is your job to shape and prepare the players to become NBA players as well as win games with the players you have available. But how valuable is a guy like Billy Thomas who has been in the game forever and played at the games highest level for these young guy? Does he make your job easier as a coach?
JC: NBDL rules call for at least one player to be assigned to the team during tryouts. Do you think the “local boy” aspect is a positive draw for the MRC and the league itself? And how much of tryouts is actually made up of local talent and not players traveling nationally trying to catch on with a team?
AA: Not true. I don’t have to have any local players on my team. We drafted a player from Maine last year, he came to camp and fought hard and didn’t quite make it, but we didn’t need to. Our tryouts this year are at UMASS Boston on September 11&12 and many of the players will come from outside the area. We just look for the best available. We can also choose to take no one from our tryout if we don’t feel they are good enough. Last year we had a player from D.C. and a player from Massachusetts make our team from our tryouts.
(Egg on my face, serves me right for reading the rules of D-League organizational rules on Wikipedia! -Jamie)
JC: I need to be careful how I word this question so it is not interpreted incorrectly or offensively. Basketball is the one sport where women are on a fairly equal ground with the men. I can’t imagine the NBA ever scheduling an exhibition match between the NBA and a WNBA team, but that is something right up the NBDL’s ally. Ideally they could hold an all-star match up between the two leagues. First could the men handle losing, and second would inter-gender matches be good strides to show how good women’s basketball has come?
AA: I think they are not nearly as close as you are suggesting. I don’t think it is fair to the women’s game to constantly be compared to the men’s game. I think we should just think of them as different games and enjoy the differences.
JC: You grew up around basketball players and locker room as a kid. If you have stayed in this field at every level you must obviously love the game, but who did you really consider yourself a fan of as a youth?
AA: I am a huge Steve Nash fan. I was in high school when he played for my dad on the Suns the first time and he was always very kind to me and let me workout with him. I am a fan of good players, but even more of good people.
JC: If you were not a coach or involved in any aspect of basketball what would you be doing today?
AA: I would probably be a blogger on Celtics 24/7, I hear the pay is great and the hours flexible!
(Tyler, you and I need to talk… where is my great pay and flexible hours!?!?! All I got was this 2004 Ferrari.-Jamie)
Coach Ainge was a great interview and it was nice to see he has some humor still in him even just prior to the stress of the season kicking off. Thank you Coach for the time you took out of your busy day, and best of luck to the Claws this season it is a very affordable way to catch great basketball. If you can’t get out to a game then try VersusTV, they aired a few games last year, there is a good shot they will renew again.
Follow Jamie Canu on Twitter @ObiWanCanubi