From today's Press Herald......
PORTLAND — Minor league basketball appears to be on its way back to Maine.
A local investment group is expected to announce Wednesday at Portland High School that it will be awarded an NBA Development League franchise, bringing professional basketball back to the state after an absence of more than a decade.
Jon Jennings, one of the lead investors behind the team, confirmed Friday that his group will be making an announcement next week.
"I can say we're very happy to bring the process to a close," he said.
Jennings and his partners have expressed a strong desire to be affiliated with the Boston Celtics, and that could indeed be the case, although Jennings would not confirm it.
Portland High boys' basketball coach Joe Russo said he has heard from several sources that Danny Ainge, president of basketball operations for the Celtics, will be at the press conference Wednesday.
"Why would Danny Ainge be coming if the team wasn't going to be associated with the Celtics?" Russo said.
Representatives from the Celtics and the D-League, as it is commonly referred to, did not return phone calls Friday.
The Celtics, defending NBA champions, are currently affiliated with the D-League's Utah Flash. Celtics President Rich Gotham told the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram last year that having a minor league affiliate closer to Boston would make sense.
"We're happy with the current relationship we have with the Utah Flash," he said then. "At the same time, we'd be happy to have a D-League team a bit closer to Boston and be able to keep a closer tie with our guys who might be playing in the D-League – get some synergy as a result."
Ian McCarthy, owner of the Manchester (N.H.) Millrats of the Premier Basketball League, said he has long suspected that the city that landed a D-League franchise first – Portland or Manchester – would get the coveted Celtics affiliation.
"We would be desirous of the Celtics affiliation, but Portland probably has a leg up on that," McCarthy said this week.
The D-League has 16 franchises, most of which are located west of the Mississippi River. An expansion team began playing in Erie, Pa., this season, making it the closest franchise to Portland.
It is unclear whether Wednesday's announcement might coincide with announcements in other cities. D-League President Dan Reed has previously expressed his intention of bringing a cluster of teams to the Northeast to keep travel costs down. The league pays player salaries, but individual teams are responsible for travel.
Other Northeast cities mentioned as possible expansion sites for the D-League have included Harlem, Hartford, Conn., and Springfield, Mass.
In March 2008, Jennings and his fellow investors – including Bill Ryan Jr., owner of Oxford Plains Speedway, and Bill Ryan Sr., chairman of the board of TD Banknorth – made a five-season lease agreement with the city of Portland to play at the Portland Expo beginning in the fall of 2009. The investors would kick in $250,000 for building improvements to the 3,209-seat Expo.
Another detail expected to unfold at Wednesday's press conference is a doubleheader arrangement with the Portland High boys' and girls' teams, which also play their games at the Expo.
"We've had enough dialogue with them about a partnership with the Portland High basketball program," said Portland athletic director Rich Drummond. "The D-League team wants to play some Friday night games. Depending on our schedules, I feel it would be a win-win situation having either the Portland boys or Portland girls playing first, followed by a D-League game."
Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: