Lakers Interested in Former Highly Touted Top-10 Pick: Report

Rob Pelinka, Lakers GM

Getty Rob Pelinka, Lakers GM

The Los Angeles Lakers may be looking to add a former top prospect to their frontcourt as the team is being linked to Orlando Magic free-agent center Mo Bamba. Orlando Sentinel’s Khobi Price reported that the Magic do not plan to tender Bamba an offer which would have made him a restricted free agent.

Instead, the Magic will be unable to automatically match whatever offer the Lakers or other teams give Bamba, making him an unrestricted free agent. The Lakers are among the teams who are interested in Bamba, per Price.

“The Magic not extending the qualifying offer doesn’t mean he won’t return,” Price wrote on June 29, 2022. “Orlando still has an interest in bringing Bamba back and is expected to work on negotiating a new deal when free agency opens.

“…There’s also the possibility the Magic sign and trade Bamba to another team interested in him. The Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves are expected to be interested in Bamba, a source told the Sentinel. Teams may negotiate deals with free agents starting at 6 p.m. on Thursday.”

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Bamba Posted Career Highs in Nearly Every Major Statistical Category in 2021-22

The case for Bamba is complicated as the center has largely underperformed during his four seasons in Orlando. Bamba entered the league with lofty expectations as the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. The big man averaged 7.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 35.2% from long range during his four years with the Magic.

Bamba struggled to find the court during his first three seasons but had a breakout 2021-22 campaign posting career highs in nearly every major statistical category while emerging as a starter. The former Texas standout averaged 10.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.2 assists while shooting 38.1% from behind the three-point line during his 71 appearances.

Bamba became a drastically improved long range shooter as evidenced by his most recent 38.1%, far better than the 32.2% he posted during the 2020-21 season. The Magic seven-footer also took more attempts last season at four per game compared to Bamba’s 2.6 threes in 2020-21.

How Much Would the Lakers Have to Pay Bamba?

Mo Bamba puts up CAREER-HIGH 32 PTS on 80% shooting 😳Mo Bamba set a new career-high with 32 PTS for the Orlando Magic in their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. ☑️ Subscribe to ESPN+: 📱Get the ESPN App: 🏀 Subscribe to NBA on ESPN on YouTube: ☑️Subscribe to ESPN on YouTube: ☑️Watch ESPN on YouTube TV:

What Bamba will command on the open market from teams like the Lakers remains to be seen. Interested franchises will have to assess whether they are getting the same player from last season or one closer to the center’s underwhelming first three years. It is difficult to imagine Bamba commanding a lucrative free-agent contract this summer, but it is not unthinkable for the center to land an offer comparable to the taxpayer exception which is a projected $6.3 million salary, per CBS Sports’ Sam Quinn.

Do the Lakers want to use their biggest offer on a player who is far from a sure thing? Bamba performed much better under first-year Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley after being buried on the bench during the Steve Clifford era. The addition of the young center would allow Anthony Davis to play more of his preferred power forward position, and Bamba’s plus shooting ability could help stretch the floor for a roster in desperate need of long-range threats.

Whether Bamba is wearing a Lakers uniform next season depends how much general manager Rob Pelinka values the center. Bamba just turned 24 years old, and it is not unreasonable to believe that the big man’s best NBA days are ahead of him.

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