On Wednesday afternoon, Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo was assigned to the Maine Red Claws to participate in a brief workout before heading back to Boston. While the short stint was just one of the final steps in Rondo's year-long rehab after an ACL tear, the move still had a solid impact on the Maine Red Claws organization.
As the head coach of the Red Claws, Mike Taylor had the opportunity to man the ship during the practice that featured Rondo. While it was just a brief two hour workout, that assignment further showcases the solid connection that the Celtics have with the Red Claws. From the recent assignments of Rondo and MarShon Brooks (now in Golden State) to the hiring of former Butler guard Ronald Nored to be Taylor's assistant after Boston hired Brad Stevens, the relationship between Boston and Maine is one of the strongest NBA to D-League connections in the entire league.
Ridiculous Upside recently had the opportunity to speak with Coach Taylor to discuss Rondo's brief stint with Maine, his relationship with Celtics coach Brad Stevens and about the current status of the Red Claws.
Ridiculous Upside: What was the overall reaction after Rajon Rondo's brief practice with your Red Claws?
Coach Taylor: Rondo was great. He handled the situation very professionally. Our guys were very excited and they enjoyed the practice because it added a lot intensity. He's very competitive and he was testing out himself and trying to get his conditioning back. We had some very good scrimmages, so for our guys it was just like having a regular Wednesday practice, but the chance to add Rondo to the mix was a great thing for them and I think they really enjoyed the experience.
RU: What's the interaction like between the coaching staff and the Celtics organization when somebody like Rondo or even MarShon Brooks gets assigned to the Red Claws?
Coach Taylor: We're very connected. I think the Celtics do a great job with our team in the D-League in terms of direction and organization. Brad [Stevens] had some clear goals for MarShon and Rondo. There's a lot of communication, whether it would be with the coaching staff or front office. I'd like to think that the Celtics and Red Claws are a model relationship in the D-League.
RU: In your short time with Maine, Boston have had two separate coaches. How does the transition from two separate systems affect the Red Claws?
Coach Taylor: I think the thing is that the two coaches were just terrific. Doc Rivers and his staff, and now Brad Stevens, are wonderful coaches to work with and learn from. They're both great communicators and have outstanding philosophies on how the game should be played. It's an easy adjustment when you're willing to learn and be a team guy. I think both systems have been excellent and I'm really excited to learn basketball from Brad Stevens.
We've had to adjust a little bit offensively. Defensively, both of these guys have real commitment to being defensive teams and I think we've carried that over in Maine as well.
RU: Describe the relationship that you've had with Brad Stevens since he's come on board with Boston?
Coach Taylor: I've been fortunate enough to be around Brad and his coaching staff a lot, mostly during preseason and training camp or whenever I can get down to Boston during the season. Brad is a very good person, great communicator, and leader. I think he's a natural coach. Brad was tremendously successful at the college level and he's adapting extremely well to the NBA game. My hope is that he'll have great players and the Celtics can rebuild the team so he can put his guys in place to make a very good run. He's been tremendously supportive of myself and our team. We have one of his former players (Ron Nored) as our assistant coach and I'm just extremely impressed with not only their basketball expertise but the type of people they are.
RU: How do you utilize a player like Ty Walker who has such a solid individual niche into your rotation?
Coach Taylor: I think that any team in the NBA style game that has solid rim protection can be a good defensive team. Ty is an extremely good rim protector who can block shots and challenge with his length. As a one-dimensional rim protector player he is pretty good, but he also has the ability to affect the game in other ways. For example, he can run the floor and be a good screen and roll player. These types of situations are some of the ways that we want to help him develop. He's really established himself as a rim protector and done great things like that. Ty's also tried hard to improve other elements of his game like his physicality, low-post scoring and things are those lines. He's really established himself as a quality young big man and has definitely opened some eyes to NBA teams.
RU: Despite the fact that Chris Wright has only been in the D-league for three seasons, he's basically the veteran leader of your team. How important is it to have a solid veteran figure like Wright on a team that's extremely young?
Coach Taylor: It's critical. As a player, Chris Wright is a high energy guy, tremendous athlete, and outstanding in transition. He's helped us win so many games over the last couple of seasons. His character makes him so special because he's a team leader, great and fun guy to be around in the gym. He's really important because he gets along with our coaching staff and we really support him in his quest to make it back to the NBA.
RU: Which individual Red Claw player has made the biggest improvement over the course of the season?
Coach Taylor: There have been guys who have made improvement but the one who stands out to me is Frank Gaines. We originally had Frank lined up to be a 50 game D-League guy to play behind Jermaine Taylor and develop as a scoring guard. But with Taylor's injury early in the season, there was a lot more responsibility put on Frank's plate and he's responded tremendously. He's become an impact scorer, which has come naturally for him. Gaines has become a solid rookie player with tremendous potential who has made a big impact on this Red Claws team this year.