PORTLAND, ME – OCTOBER 22: PJ Dozier goes up for a layup during practice during the opening day of training camp for the Maine Red Claws, who will soon start their tenth season playing in the NBA G League. (Staff photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer)
The familiar thump of basketballs and squeak of sneakers permeated the Portland Expo Monday afternoon as the Maine Red Claws gathered for the first time to prepare for their 10th season in what began as the NBA Development League but is now known as the G League.
After three consecutive division titles, the Claws stumbled to a 17-33 record and ended the season on a 10-game losing streak. Only one player is back from that squad, forward Vitto Brown, who came to Maine in a January trade.
“We’ve got a solid group of veterans here, people who have played for different G League teams or overseas, who have good basketball knowledge,” Brown said during a break in the action. “We did last year, too, it was just some things that weren’t clicking at the end of the season.”
Center Dallas Lauderdale, who played in Hungary last season after playing for the 2016-17 Red Claws, wasn’t aware of Maine’s tailspin last spring, which resulted in one victory over the final 19 games.
“We’ll have to change that,” he said.
Marcus Georges-Hunt, Lauderdale’s Red Claws teammate for much of the season two years ago before being called up by the Orlando Magic, spent last season with the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves. He was a late addition to the Boston Celtics preseason camp and is expected to join the Red Claws later this week.
On the sidelines, Brandon Bailey returns for his second year as head coach. The only assistant coach from last year’s staff to come back is Allen Deep.
“I felt like we really learned a lot from last year,” Bailey said. “A lot of good self-reflection on what I thought I could have done better, because it really starts with me.”
Bailey said he and Remy Cofield, the Red Claws general manager, took a look at every aspect of the organization and how they could make improvements.
“Hopefully,” Bailey said, “it shows up on the court this year.”
At the core of this year’s Red Claws are guards Walt Lemon Jr. and P.J. Dozier, both under two-way contracts that allow them to spend up to 45 days with the Celtics. Expo fans may remember Lemon from last February, when he scored a career-high 40 points for visiting Fort Wayne in a 122-103 victory over Maine. Lemon certainly remembers.
“This gym in particular, the fan-base here is crazy,” he said. “Every game I come here, it’s always packed. As a competitor, you want to play in places like that. It gives you energy, as much (enthusiasm) as they have in this building.”
Two weeks later, Lemon made his NBA debut on the first of two 10-day contracts with New Orleans. He eventually played in four more games with the Pelicans. At 26, he also has overseas experience.
Dozier, who turns 22 on Thursday, is a 6-foot-6 guard in his second season as a two-way player. He signed with Oklahoma City last year after going undrafted out of the University of South Carolina and spent most of his time with the G League’s OKC Blue, appearing in only two games with the NBA Thunder.
If his face looks familiar, it may be a resemblance to his second cousin, former Celtics star Reggie Lewis. Dozier’s father Perry and uncle Terry played for Baltimore’s Dunbar High School, as did Lewis, who collapsed on the court during an offseason practice in the summer of 1993, three years before Dozier was born.
“It’s amazing to be around this culture that has been built in Boston,” said Dozier, who has requested to wear 35 in honor of Lewis. “Great people on and off the court.”