Do the Celtics really covet Mo Bamba?

Mo Bamba Celtics
Could Mo Bamba wind up a Boston Celtic?

Today we heard reports that the Boston Celtics have interviewed Texas center Mo Bamba multiple times and “covet” him in the draft.  So much so that they could be inclined to deal multiple assets in order to secure him.

So the questions are simple:

1) Can we believe these reports?

This story originated from Sean Deveney of The Sporting News.  Deveney is generally fairly well-respected and TSN is certainly a credible source.  So we’re going to answer “Yes” to question 1.

2) Does it make sense for Boston?

This is a tougher question.  Here’s what we know: Brad Stevens and the Celtics value defense — and Bamba is potentially the highest upside defender in this draft class.  With his absurd 7’10” wingspan, intelligence, and solid instincts (4.9 blocks and 14.0 rebounds per-40 last season), few prospects in recent years posses the type of defensive potential that Bamba has.  He also has a developing offensive game, including solid mechanics on his jump shot, and doesn’t require the basketball on offense.  Two more giant pluses in the pro-Bamba argument.

On the other hand, the Celtics have to view themselves as a real NBA title contender next season.  Why wouldn’t they?  This year’s group went to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference playoffs without arguably their two best players — Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.  Adding that pair to a team to the ever-underrated Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart, and the rapidly improving trio of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier gives the Celtics a claim at having the NBA’s best on-paper roster.

By any metric, the Celtics appear to be a real title contender next season.  However, standing in their way are the Golden State Warriors, a team that likes to play small and fast.

While Bamba’s defensive potential is massive, it’s hard to see him being a better defender than Al Horford next season.  While adding Bamba is a fascinating long-term fit and gives them an interesting starting lineup, Boston won’t be able to play Horford and Bamba together for long stretches against Golden State.  Answering question two requires answering the question of are the Celtics willing to give up major assets now, while they’re firmly in the title hunt, for an asset that likely won’t help them much next season.

For the sake of this article, let’s assume that answer is yes.

3) What would it take to get Bamba?

This is where things get really interesting.  Bamba’s combine measurements make him one of the hottest prospects in this draft, and while I personally have him going #7 overall in a soon-to-be-released mock draft, to ensure you can get him, Boston would likely need to trade up to 3 or 4 overall.

So what does that cost?  A lot.  This isn’t like Boston would be moving up a couple of picks to get the guy they want.  The Celtics only selection in the first round this season is #27 overall.  While it’s always nice to have a first-round pick, it’s trade value here is negligible.  The team does have other assets to dangle in second-year standout Jaylen Brown, rapidly-emerging PG Terry Rozier and a couple of 2018 first round picks (Sacramento’s pick should it land anywhere but #1 overall and a Top-8 protected first round pick from Memphis).

Let’s look at what the cost for each pick from 3-5 could potentially be:

#3 Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks are firmly in the rebuilding stage right now and could well be the least talented roster in the NBA when the season rolls around next October.  The team has been linked to Michigan State’s tantalizing bigman prospect Jaren Jackson Jr. with the #3 selection.  Point guard Dennis Schroder, who may be the team’s most talented player, has made it clear that he would like to be moved this summer.  That leaves the Hawks with SF Taurean Prince and PF John Collins as their top players.

If the Celtics truly covet Bamba and have to get up to the #3 overall pick, it’s fair to think that the Hawks would ask for both Rozier and Brown.  Both players would slide nicely into the team’s starting lineup next season along with Prince, Collins, and Dewayne Dedmon.  The issue here is this could make the Hawks good enough to miss out on the top prospects next season, while potentially not having a true superstar to build around.  So for Atlanta to make this deal, they would need to be sold on the long-term upside of Brown and Rozier.

#4 Memphis Grizzlies – There’s an interesting element at play here as Memphis doesn’t appear to be interesting in blowing things up yet, but their first-round pick belongs to the Celtics next season if they don’t pick in the Top 8.  Assuming that the Grizzlies revert to something closer to their 15′-16′ or 16′-17′ record next season (as they’ll have a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol) the team will likely lose their first-round pick to the Celtics.  So any deal here would have to include that pick.

Memphis doesn’t want to stay in the lottery, so it makes sense that they would ask for their own pick back as part of this deal.  They don’t need Rozier with Conley returning, so a package of Jaylen Brown and the Sacramento Kings 2019 pick, along with the Grizzlies getting their own 2019 pick back from Boston would seem fair.  Brown would have a little more freedom to score then he did in Boston and forms an interesting trio alongside Conley and Gasol.

Memphis is currently projected to be at-or-over the salary cap for next season, so to match salaries they would need to include someone like Ben McLemore in the deal to make things work.

#5 Dallas Mavericks – Dallas is a tougher situation to figure out as they make a lot of sense as a landing spot for Bamba in the draft.  They’re also a team that could shot for the stars with an upside play like Michael Porter Jr.  This looks to be another team that could contend for the NBA’s least-talented roster next season and they’re an uneasy fit with Boston because they have no need for Rozier with Dennis Smith Jr. in town.

The Mavericks are comfortably under the salary cap for next season, so they can absorb players without having to worry about salary matching.  Again, we would have to start with Jaylen Brown here.  Brown pairs nicely in the backcourt with Smith Jr., giving the team a pair of exciting, athletic young stars to build around.  In addition to Brown, it’s fair to assume Dallas would ask for the Sacramento 2019 pick, but could likely settle for a combination of lesser selections.

So wrapping this exercise up, will the Celtics make a move to get Mo Bamba?  My guess is that Danny Ainge, notoriously stingy in trades, will have a hard time giving up the assets needed to make such a substantial jump up in the draft.  Things would be a little easier to swallow is Memphis or Dallas had more of a need for Terry Rozier, especially since Boston will have a hard time holding on to him long-term as he’s up for a new contract soon.

So at the end of the day, I’m guessing Boston fails to make a trade here, but it was fun to break it down and in truth, anything can happen on draft day.



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