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Eric Gay/Associated Press
The Boston Celtics have played in three of the past four Eastern Conference Finals, but getting back to that spot—let alone breaking through for their first NBA Finals trip since 2010—could be tricky.
The East looks as loaded as ever.
The Milwaukee Bucks built a Big Three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. The Brooklyn Nets constructed their own with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. The Philadelphia 76ers are steamrolling with a healthy Joel Embiid tossing his hat into the MVP race. The Miami Heat, who won the conference last season, could be catching fire now that their roster is back at full strength.
The Celtics have a pair of surging stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, a ferocious defender in Marcus Smart and an impact rookie in Payton Pritchard. Beyond them, they have a slew of question marks, ranging from the health (and efficiency) of Kemba Walker, the strength of this center rotation and the firepower of the supporting cast.
Boston seems like one of the most logical buyers on the trade market, but it would do well to avoid the following three potential targets.
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Kathy Willens/Associated Press
A former fascination of the Boston front office, Mo Bamba should probably be on the radar of any team who, like the Celtics, could use more size and athleticism in the frontcourt.
Someone needs to pry him out of Orlando. Since arriving there as the sixth overall pick in 2018, he’s been buried behind Nikola Vucevic. Now, Bamba is also trailing Khem Birch and basically has been squeezed out of the rotation. Things will only get worse when a healthy Jonathan Isaac further crowds the frontcourt.
Bamba, 22, needs a chance. Maybe he’d prove overdrafted if he got one. Or perhaps his tremendous length and soft shooting touch could make him an impact big for the modern NBA. It’s impossible to know whether he’d survive in the deep end when Orlando has refused to give him an opportunity to sink or swim.
That uncertainty should make him an intriguing buy-low candidate for some club, but the Celtics aren’t that team. If they make a move for a center, they need that player to actually see the floor. That wouldn’t happen for Bamba, with Daniel Theis, Tristan Thompson, Robert Williams III, Tacko Fall and Grant Williams all factoring into the center rotation.
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Eric Gay/Associated Press
When Gordon Hayward bolted out of Boston this offseason, the Celtics had no obvious means of replacing him. So, they didn’t.
It’s conceivable, then, that a player like DeMar DeRozan could find his way onto their radar. While a different player in style and approach, there are similarities in production. Last season, Hayward was a nightly supplier of 17.5 points and 4.1 assists. This season, DeRozan is giving the Spurs 20.2 points and 6.7 assists.
The issue is the 31-year-old’s contract. Yes, it’s expiring, but it’s worth an enormous $27.7 million before it does. Boston isn’t matching that without moving Kemba Walker (why would San Antonio want him?), dealing Marcus Smart (the emotional leader) or destroying its depth.
The cost is too severe for the Celtics to make this work. At best, DeRozan would be the third option on offense, which can be a tricky role for him since he’s not an off-ball spacer (career 28.4 percent from three) and doesn’t offer much resistance at the other end.
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Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press
While the center spot has (understandably) been the area most commonly cited for the Celtics to upgrade, their wing rotation could use a lift around Brown and Tatum.
The ideal addition would provide both perimeter shooting and defensive versatility. A fully healthy Otto Porter Jr. would check both boxes.
But that’s just it: He’s almost never healthy. The 27-year-old played 56 games in 2018-19 and just 14 last season. After playing in each of Chicago‘s first 10 games this season, he has since appeared in just six of its last 13. That includes missing each of its past four contests and subsequently being shut down from basketball activities to deal with a nagging back issue.
The Celtics don’t have a lot in the way of reliable depth, so if they move assets for a player, they need him to provide consistent production. Porter can’t do that if he’s stuck on the sideline.