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NBA Rumors: Mo Bamba 'Unlikely' to Receive Magic Qualifying Offer; Will Be UFA

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJune 29, 2022

Chris Coduto/Getty Images

The Orlando Magic are "unlikely" to tender the $10.1 million qualifying offer to center Mo Bamba, according to Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel.

The decision will make him an unrestricted free agent on Thursday, although the door is still open for a return.

"Orlando still has an interest in bringing Bamba back and is expected to work on negotiating a new deal when free agency opens," Price reported.

Orlando played to type when it selected Bamba sixth overall in the 2018 NBA draft. The franchise had used first-round picks on Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac, athletic forwards with massive raw potential, and Bamba was an extension of that approach.

The 7-footer was stuck behind Nikola Vucevic for much of his first three years. Entering the 2021-22 season, he was averaging 6.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 15.3 minutes per game for his career.

With the benefit of a full season as the starting center, Bamba not only put up his best numbers ever but was also a more efficient scorer than he had ever been.

In 71 appearances, the Texas alum averaged 10.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks and shot 38.1 percent from beyond the arc. His 58.2 percent true shooting rate was a noticeable uptick from his previous best (55.6), per Basketball Reference.

One of Bamba's best games came in a 120-115 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 5. He finished with a double-double (21 points, 12 rebounds) and knocked down his first five three-pointers.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

MO BAMBA 5-FOR-5 FROM DEEP IN THE 1H?!? 🔥 <a href="https://t.co/mwbfV2IYSh">pic.twitter.com/mwbfV2IYSh</a>

Following the end of the regular season, the 24-year-old affirmed his desire to remain in Orlando.

"I want to be here,” he said, per Price. “I just want to make that clear. I’ll let that stuff handle itself and continue to work."

President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman addressed Bamba's future in April in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi on 96.9 The Game’s Open Mike:

"He’s still got work to do. He’s still a very young guy. He’s got a lot of progress in front of him, but to your question, look, Mo is a restricted free agent and right now our whole group is taking a big exhale. Everybody is kind of clearing out for a little bit while they decompress. We will regroup and try to get an understanding of how our group fits together and obviously, free agency is a two-way street. So, we’ll see where that goes, but we’re very encouraged by Mo’s progress."

That Weltman described Bamba as a restricted free agent seemed to confirm Orlando would at least extend him the qualifying offer, but now that doesn't seem to be the case.

Given his age, Bamba fits with the Magic's larger timeline. After years of treading water and having a limited ceiling, the organization traded away Vucevic and Gordon to trigger a full-scale rebuild.

Finishing with the Eastern Conference's worst record (22-60) showed how far the Magic are from contention. But Bamba should be in his prime when they're theoretically beginning to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Still, Orlando already handed Wendell Carter Jr. a four-year, $50 million extension. Isaac is entering the second year of his four-year, $69.6 million deal. Re-signing Bamba would mean tying up a lot of money in the frontcourt.

The team also selected forward Paolo Banchero with the No. 1 pick of the 2022 NBA draft.

Granted, Isaac has missed two full seasons because of a torn left ACL. He underwent surgery in August 2020, which should've left him clear to play last season. But Weltman confirmed in March the 6'11" forward wouldn't be taking the court in the 2021-22 campaign.

Before the ACL injury, Isaac flashed elite defensive ability at times and the potential to grow into a true franchise cornerstone with a slightly better jumper—he's a 33 percent career three-point shooter.

After the injury, the Magic may have to reset their expectations.

The lingering questions around Isaac gave them an obvious incentive to avoid letting Bamba slip away, but the current price tag is seemingly too high for Weltman and general manager John Hammond.

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