The Orlando Magic will enter the 2022-23 season full of expectations. As the NBA training camp kicks off next week, all eyes will be on No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero. The rookie seems to be the central piece for the Magic’s future, and it all depends on what the team decides to do with its starting lineup.
Last season, Orlando was the second-worst team in the league with a 22-60 record. After two years in the playoffs, injuries have been limiting the growth and development of young players from the Magic squad. Consequently, it has been difficult to head coach Jamahl Mosley to find the ideal starting five.
Jonathan Isaac last played in the 2020 bubble, Markelle Fultz has only appeared in 26 games when combining the last two seasons and now Gary Harris suffered a torn meniscus this offseason.
Depending on how some players recover from their injuries, it might mean some changes in the starting lineup. Adding Banchero to the mix, there is one Magic player with serious risk of losing his starting job in ahead of the 2022-23 season.
Entering the 2022 offseason, it seemed Mo Bamba was almost guaranteed to leave Orlando. The Magic even declined to extend a qualifying offer to the big man. However, both parties agreed to a two-year, $20.6 million deal, with the second year non-guaranteed. It caught many fans by surprise, but it looks like a low-risk, high-reward type of deal for the Magic.
Bamba is coming off his best year in the NBA. He averaged 10.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, all career-bests. He played in 71 games, while also starting 69 of them and playing 25.7 minutes a night. Still, for a former top 10 pick, those numbers were expected to be higher by his fourth season.
In 2021-22, Bamba mostly played alongside Wendell Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. However, for this upcoming season, the Magic added Paolo Banchero. The No. 1 pick plays at power forward, which means one of the returners will likely lose the starting role.
There are a couple of reasons why Carter is potentially winning this battle. He has a larger contract, four years worth $50 million, which means he is in the long-term plans. He also produces more in terms of scoring and rebounding. In 2021-22, the former Bull averaged 15.0 points, 10.5 boards and 2.8 assists.
Originally there was the possibility of moving Banchero to the small forward position. But with Franz Wagner’s terrific performance in the 2022 EuroBasket with Germany, plus his strong rookie campaign, this is extra unlikely to happen.
That leaves Bamba as the odd man out. Despite his best year as a pro, he was still inferior to his main competition in Carter. With such a disparity between each other’s contracts, it potentially indicates who Orlando believes is the center of the future. Unless Bamba really impresses in training camp and preseason games, he will most likely start the season as one of the main guys off the Magic’s bench.
Also, since he is under such a friendly deal, there is still a possibility he can be traded to a contender close to the trade deadline. If a playoff team is in need of some center depth, it should not require much to take Bamba away from the Magic. At the end of the day, he can be waived after this season with no financial complications for future seasons.
Mo Bamba will have to prove to not only Orlando but to the entire NBA that he deserves a big role in the league. It might not be with the Magic, but he will need to battle to get a place at the starting five once again.