The Chicago Bulls could get a re-do on the 2018 NBA Draft and land center Mohamed Bamba this offseason. Not that they are necessarily regretting taking Wendell Carter seventh-overall – he was a key piece in the trade to acquire Nikola Vucevic last season.
It was out of their control as Bamba was drafted by the Orlando Magic with the sixth-overall pick — one spot ahead of Carter. But the Bulls were linked to the former Texas Longhorns star during the pre-draft process.
Now, one NBA executive tells Heavy’s Sean Deveney that he expects the Bulls to be one of several teams to kick the tires on Bamba this summer.
The Magic Number
With Orlando winning the first overall pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, they have their choice of the top players in this class which all happen to be big men. Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith all project as power forwards and, likely, centers in today’s NBA.
Carter is under contract through 2026 as he enters the first year of a four-year, $50 million pact, per Spotrac.com, signed ahead of this past season.
That could leave Bamba on the outs in Orlando where the executive expects the Bulls to pounce.
“The Magic will have some options with Bamba. He played well especially down the stretch of the season for them. But he figures to be the odd man out. There will be a good push for a sign-and-trade. He probably won’t come at too high a price because we have not seen him deliver consistently. But a decent young player and a pick and that could work.”
Bamba averaged 10.6 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 38.1% from beyond the arc on 4.0 attempts and starting 69 of the 71 games that he appeared in.
That anticipated market value is key because, as the executive explained, the Bulls are light on capital after overhauling their roster over the past two seasons.
“So much of what they want to do is dependent on what happens with Vucevic. Do you keep that guy around or try to find someone to take him a trade, maybe, give you some pieces you can break off and move?”
Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas leaned into the theme of continuity in his exit interview. But he also acknowledged the need to improve after they were outclassed in the first round of the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Things could get tricky, though, if Bamba is indeed a part of their continued retool.
“Right now, they can’t do much more than give up Coby White for Bamba, and that might not be enough of a return for the Bulls to get back and you have problems with salaries matching up. But for talent and needs, Bamba for White makes sense.”
The Bulls cannot trade the 18th overall pick in this year’s draft until after making the selection.
They also have the rights to a lottery-protected (through 2028) pick from the Portland Trail Blazers that will convey the next time they make the postseason.
White’s $7.4 million salary next season would fall short of Bamba’s qualifying offer, estimated at nearly $11 million, for matching purposes. The Bulls could include forward Javonte Green to balance the finances out.
Things will become tougher beyond that.
If the Magic do not offer Bamba the qualifying offer, the Bulls could simply offer the mid-level exception and hope it beats out offers the executive expects to come from the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks if he were to become an unrestricted free agent.
Orlando would also have nearly $29 million in cap space should they renounce the rights to Bamba, per The Magic Insider’s Jeremy Brenner.
Bamba and the Bulls
Bamba could be a very cost-effective replacement if the Bulls decide to divest from Vucevic to help fill out a thin bench. A lot will depend on what the Magic decide to do now that they have won the first overall pick.
How the 7-foot Bamba sees himself will also play a huge role.
Potentially backing up Vucevic may deter him from the Bulls if the money is roughly the same somewhere else with an opportunity to start. Kevin Love and Karl-Anthony Towns are the only two other centers to shoot at least 38% from downtown and appear in 70 or more games this past season.
The fit for the Bulls is obvious with a player that has averaged 1.4 blocks per game over his first four seasons and had 1.7 per contest last year while also possessing a reliable outside shot.