BOSTON — As the other rookies and training camp invitees were gradually culled from the Celtics roster during the preseason, Kris Joseph got closer and closer to being a real NBA player. Once the regular season dawned and Joseph was still on the roster, he said all the right things about fulfilling whatever role coach Doc Rivers assigned to him. When asked if that held true even if his role were in the D-League, Joseph shrugged and said he would make the best of it.
Just how eagerly Joseph embraces a demotion will be tested now that he and fellow rookie Fab Melo have been assigned to the Celtics’ NBADL affiliate in Portland, Maine. The Maine Red Claws play their home games only about 100 miles north on I-95, but for Joseph and Melo it is light years from where they desire to be, of course. Still, leaving Causeway Street for Casco Bay could end up being the rookies’ best-case scenario.
“It’s great for both of them,” Rivers said shortly before Wednesday’s game against the Jazz. “We actually thought for a little bit about keeping Kris up, but we have no practices coming up and that’s what we’d need him for right now. Fab just needs to learn. I think [Red Claws coach] Mike [Taylor] will do a great job with him, so it’s a good experience for both of them.”
Joseph appeared in one of the Celtics’ first seven games, spending three whole minutes on the floor against Milwaukee. Even that was more than Melo, who did not see a minute of game action. Developing young talent is far from Rivers’ mind this season, with the Celtics expecting to contend for a spot in the NBA Finals despite their rocky 4-3 start. In Portland, Joseph and Melo will benefit from the Celtics’ single-affiliate relationship with the Red Claws and be the top priority of Taylor’s coaching staff. Rivers said he expected Melo to be “dominant” in the D-League, just as Greg Stiemsma ravaged opponents during his minor league stint.
The Red Claws invited a rotation’s-worth of players to training camp, which began Monday. Among that group are Xavier Silas, Chris Wright and Champ Oguchi, who spent time with the Red Claws last season, as well as Micah Downs, who the Celtics cut in the preseason. None of those players represent the same investment as Joseph or Melo, who as Celtics draft picks could play key roles in Boston’s future either on the court or as trade chips. Silas, for example, most recently participated in training camp with the Sixers, and Wright is coming off a training camp run with the Raptors. All other things being equal, the Celtics will most likely focus on the long-term development of their own draft picks.
“We have control over how it’s run,” Rivers said. “Mike came down and spent the entire preseason, training camp with us, so they’re running a lot of the stuff we do, running our defensive schemes, so I think it’s terrific. We hope some day that every team has that.”
Going to the D-League is a step back for Joseph and Melo, but if they capitalize on the increased playing time in games and the extensive attention they should receive in practice, this could be one step back to make two steps forward.