The Los Angeles Lakers began the season with a 2-10 record. After completely missing out on the gatehouse tournament and the playoffs in 2022, the Lakers’ fan base feared their team would suffer the same thing in 2022-23.
They began to find their groove after numerous trade-deadline moves executed by general manager Rob Pelinka. Even after the departure of Russell Westbrook and the arrivals of Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt, Los Angeles still had to battle through the gate tournament to clinch its Western Conference playoff berth as the seventh seed.
The Lakers overcame the odds by defeating the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, and then defeated the defending champion Golden State Warriors in six games to advance to the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, the Lakers lost to the top-seeded Denver Nuggets thanks to a sweep, all the evidence the front office needs to re-strengthen the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis before 2023-24.
Russell, Lonnie Walker IV and Dennis Schroder are unrestricted free agents, while Austin Reaves and Hachimura are restricted free agents. Even with the uncertainty of their lineup for next season, the Lakers have moved a player destined to be a cog in whatever offseason trade they plan to complete.
After acquiring Mo Bamba before the 2023 trade deadline, the expectation was for him to replace Thomas Bryant’s role as Anthony Davis’ backup. That didn’t turn out to be the case as Bamba missed a considerable portion of the regular season with an injury that sidelined him during the playoffs.
Bamba’s best game in a Lakers uniform was a 12-point outing in the first week of March, so there’s no apparent reason to keep him for the 2023-24 season. The production that Bamba brings to the Lakers can be matched by someone like Tristan Thompson or Wenyen Gabriel.
Since the Lakers are involved in a lot of offseason buzz like acquiring Trae Young or Kyrie Irving, they can guarantee Bamba’s $10.3 million contract for next season and use him as salary filler in a bigger trade.
Despite his relative youth at 25 and his status as a former top-five draft pick, the Lakers have no incentive to sign Bamba to a new contract or even guarantee the final season of his current deal in absence of an exchange. Rather than lose him this summer for nothing, a prudent move would be to use his contract in a trade.
The Lakers should focus on adding a pair of ball handlers and shooters that will complement the trio of James, Davis and Reaves. Los Angeles’ weaknesses were exposed in the Denver series, and addressing them through any team-building means necessary should be the team’s top priority this summer. The Lakers were, in fact, the only postseason foe to get swept by the Nuggets, but they still put up a better fight against Nikola Jokic and the new Western Conference champions than the Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Like James Wiseman, Bamba needs more development time on the court before he emerges as a reliable NBA contributor, and it won’t come for a team with championship aspirations. It would be better if he played for a young and promising team in the future, and it would be easier for the Lakers to pull off a high-profile trade by including Bamba’s contract.