The easiest thing the Bulls can do to make up for the franchise-altering news about Lonzo Ball is to re-sign Patrick Beverley this offseason.
But that would be like putting a band-aid over a gash.
By now, it’s clear the Bulls should be beyond that.
After inexplicably staying silent at this year’s deadline, passing up an opportunity to launch the retool everyone can see this roster needs, the Bulls have no choice this summer.
Ball is scheduled for third surgery on his left knee, which threatens to sideline him for the 2023-24 season. If this scenario materializes, Ball will miss 2 1/2 consecutive seasons. He last appeared in an NBA game on January 14, 2022. He may not appear in court for his next contest until October 2024.
And now the questions of whether Ball will play again at all have been legitimized. If the 25-year-old kingpin recovers and returns to the game, it will be a major achievement. But it’s fair to wonder if Ball, on his way to becoming a two-way star before chronic knee discomfort led to this ongoing saga, ever regains his form.
“My main goal has been to get back on the field and get to a place where I can join my teammates,” Ball said in a team statement. “It has been a frustrating process, but I am confident that these next steps are the best way forward. The support of my family, friends, fans and medical staff throughout my recovery is what keeps me going. I can’t wait to get back to what I love the most: playing basketball.
Ball will undergo a cartilage transplant in his left knee and will be out indefinitely. Bulls public relations said the team will provide updates as needed. No date has been announced for Ball’s surgery.
“I continue to admire Lonzo’s perseverance throughout this journey,” Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas said via the team statement. “It has been a long and difficult road for him, and this decision has been difficult to make. The organization is behind him and he has our full support. Our training and medical staff continue their commitment to Lonzo’s rehabilitation and working with him throughout this next phase to ensure his healthy return to basketball.
Despite Ball’s unfortunate situation, the Bulls can no longer use his absence as a crutch. Before the start of this season, coach Billy Donovan candidly said that he was preparing his team as if Ball would not play in 2022-23. Chicago must now face the potential reality that Ball may never play another game for the franchise.
After arriving in a signing and trade with New Orleans in the 2021 offseason, Ball only played 35 games before the general pain turned into an inability to run, jump or climb stairs without pain. . He underwent a first meniscus operation in January 2022 and a second surgery at the end of September. Before his second surgery, Ball revealed the extent of his knee problems when asked what happens when he tries to play basketball.
“Yeah, I literally can’t,” he said in September. ” I can not run. I can neither run nor jump. There’s a range of, like, 30 to 60 degrees on my knee being bent that I have no strength. And I can’t catch up. So until I can do those things, I can’t play. I did rehabilitation. It was better. But it wasn’t to a point where I could get out and run full speed or jump. Surgery was therefore the next step.
Ball still has two years left on his $42 million contract. There are hardship provisions in the collective agreement that allow the Bulls to receive a roster and pay relief for extended injury-related absences. The Bulls should petition the league office and be granted the full scope of protection. But it doesn’t go any further.
Chicago finds itself with a huge gap at point guard that it tried unsuccessfully to fill for 1 1/2 seasons and a short playoff appearance. Without cap space or significant draft capital, the Bulls are at an impasse. A trade for another main guard is the most likely route.
To get a rookie-level player back, the Bulls should trade Zach LaVine or DeMar DeRozan this summer. Starting center Nikola Vučević, in the final season of his contract, could have extracted some value had the Bulls traded him before the deadline. Now he can get away with it as an unrestricted free agent, with a rival team having less incentive to trade assets for him if they can sign him outright.
Second-year guard Ayo Dosunmu filled Ball admirably last season and for a time this season before Beverley signed as a free agent in February. Ball’s prognosis could increase the likelihood that Dosunmu and Beverley, both Chicago natives, will re-sign. The Bulls could hand over the team to Dosunmu and monitor its development, while retaining Beverley would maintain short-term stability in the backcourt.
The odds are also increasing that Coby White will stay in Chicago, with the Bulls needing quality guard play and perimeter shooting. Ball hit a career-high 42.3 percent on 7.4 3-pointers per game last season, confirming his surprising 2021 preseason that he’s among the best shooters in the NBA. White, 23, will be a restricted free agent this summer. He’s a career 36.4 percent 3-point shooter finding his way into his fourth season.
But the Bulls are approaching the tax threshold and likely won’t be able to retain everyone without going over it. Considering how last season’s stretch run and playoff appearance went, and now this season without Ball, it’s time for the Bulls to continue their favorite pursuit of continuity with this group.
A reconstruction is necessary and should be at the center of this off-season.
A third surgery for Ball and a likely wiped-out second consecutive season eliminates any remaining doubts about this slate that has reached its expiration date.
(Top photo: Quinn Harris/Getty Images)