Nothing gets NBA talent evaluators salivating like wingspan. The more a player has, the better it is, and you can never have enough of it. And Mo Bamba has wingspan to spare and share, 7 feet and 10 inches of it.
It was reported Saturday that the Celtics had high interest in Bamba, and that they interviewed the big man at the combine in Chicago. Of course, the Celtics don’t have a lottery pick in the draft for the first time since 2015 — though it feels longer — and can get in Bamba range only if they make a trade. Boston has the assets to get in the top three if there are takers, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. For example, the Mavericks, who could be looking for win-now players, are keeping their own no. 5 pick. And the Celtics don’t seem to have enough interest in Bamba for the team to even consider mortgaging its future in a move this risky. Then again, as Jayson Tatum showed this season, if Danny Ainge likes a player, there might be a good reason.
All things considered, Boston is probably not trading up. So, what will Ainge’s next move be?
The Celtics would be right to be interested in a big man. They have a plethora of guards and forwards on their roster, and have one more of each coming back from injury next season in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. And though their return will be key for a team that was one game away from the NBA Finals, the Celtics don’t just want to get out of the East, they want to win it all. And they probably know that it will take at least one more superstar to compete with the Warriors. Aside from maybe the Sixers, Boston’s asset hoarding, alongside their current talent, provides the best chance at contending in the next five years. (They could have four first-round draft picks next year.)
They have a few possible pathways to their goal. A win-now mentality wouldn’t have them trade for high draft picks to get younger players like Bamba, but rather use those assets to get a superstar like Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis (should either become available). Trading for one of those two will require more than just picks, and probably more than Terry Rozier. Will Ainge be willing to part ways with Jaylen Brown or Tatum? And if not, will not paying up for Marcus Smart cost their team defense and depth next season?
Last season, Kevin O’Connor wrote about how the Celtics were trying to do the seemingly impossible: win now and win later. Trading for Irving and signing Hayward seemed to push them more toward “win now.” Having to decide between a draft pick and a superstar is a good problem to have, but one that also makes this Celtics offseason, and the next, and the next, fascinating. Boston has the makings of a perfectly set-up franchise: young, talented players under contracts and superstars who have chosen to join. Anything is possible.