October 4, 2022

One team’s trash can be another team’s treasure. So let’s hope the Boston Celtics found a gem while digging around Cleveland.

Last October, the Cleveland Cavaliers waived C/F Mfiondu Kabengele and fullback Broderic Thomas. Giving up on Kabengele was understandable since the Cavaliers drafted Evan Mobley.

A few days later, Thomas signed a two-way contract with the Celtics. Kabengele signed with the Houston Rockets, but was waived a day later.

Maybe Boston picked up Kabengele, watched him closely, fired him before picking up Thomas back then. But the Celtics turned around this spring, took another look at Kabengele and, with a shrug, said, “Eh…why not?”

Were the Boston Celtics not interested in Kabengele before? After the trade deadline, the Celtics president of basketball operations basically filled the roster with Maine Celtics and Luke Kornet just to get enough bodies on the roster.

Kornet didn’t play any relevant minutes in his second stint with the Celtics. It was no surprise. Boston knew Kornet from his previous stint with the team last year.

Not that Kabengele would have recorded significant minutes, but his potential was worth investigating at the time. With a bit more seasoning in the G League, the Celtics like what they see from Kabengele now, so they’ve signed him to the Summer League roster.

Boston Celtics may have found a big man running in Mfiondu Kabengele to expand into Maine

Kabengele joins a team highlighted by Boston Celtics second-round draft picks JD Davison and Juhann Begarin and Summer League signing Trevion Williams and Vegas. Game 1 is July 9 at 5:30 p.m. against the Miami Heat.

Kabengele is a 6-9,250 pound big man with floor spacer ability. For the Rio Grande Vipers of the G League, he averaged 17.5 points per game while shooting 59.4%, including 44% from three. He also grabbed 9.3 boards per game and one block per game.

He wasn’t just stuffing the score out of the box. Kabengele was by far the best 3-point shooter for the Vibers (4.5 percentage points better than Daishen Nix), led the team in rebounds (minimum 20 games), and finished third on the team in scoring.

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In the playoffs, Kabengele stepped up his game. In Game 1 of the G League Finals, he nearly recorded a triple-double (19 points, 14 rebounds, eight blocks). To seal the championship, Kabengele led the Vipers with 29 points, 10 boards and six blocks.

His scouting report says he’s also a factor on defense, backed by all 14 blocks in two playoff games. Makes sense, since he played for Florida State. And his uncle is NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo. Defense apparently runs in the family.

Kabengele is a good athlete. It goes up and down easily in the field. He also has a good rebound in his game. Add to that a 7-3 wingspan and he would be a great lob target on pick and rolls or screens.

Perhaps Kabengele is a late bloomer. He’s been on five NBA teams since being drafted 27th overall in 2019. Nothing wrong with that. What matters most is that Kabengele kept working hard, winning a championship and now has the look the Boston Celtics should have given him back in October.

If he performs well in Vegas, Kabengele could earn a two-way deal with the Celtics. The best-case scenario would be that Kabengele is finally ready for the NBA and earns a rim runner role off the bench.

The Celtics made a two-way qualifying offer for Thomas on Wednesday, making him a restricted free agent on July 1. It’s very possible that Kabengele will be Thomas’ teammate again when the Summer League ends.

This could be a great Celtics take on that Cleveland dumpster dive.