The easiest thing the Bulls could do to make up for the news of a franchise change about Lonzo Ball is to re-sign Patrick Beverley this offseason.
But this would be like putting a band-aid on a cut wound.
Now, obviously, the bulls have to get over that.
After staying inexplicably quiet on this year’s deadline, while allowing the opportunity to pass to begin retooling everyone who can see this roster needs, the Bulls are left with no choice this summer.
Ball is set to undergo a third surgery on his left knee, which threatens to sideline him for the 2023-24 season. If this scenario plays out, Ball will miss two consecutive seasons. He last appeared in an NBA game on January 14, 2022. He may not court in his next game until October 2024.
And now the questions of whether ball will ever be played again have been legitimized. If the 25-year-old pin recovers and returns to play, it would be a huge achievement. But it’s fair to wonder if Ball, who is on track to becoming a two-way star before chronic knee discomfort led to this ongoing saga, will ever regain his form.
“My main focus has been on getting back on the court and getting to a place where I can rejoin my teammates,” Paul said in a statement released by the team. “This 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 moving forward. I can’t wait to get back to what I love to do most – playing football basket.”
Ball will undergo a cartilage transplant in his left knee and remain out indefinitely. Bulls PR said the team will provide updates as appropriate. No date has been announced for Ball’s surgery.
“I continue to admire Lonzo’s tenacity throughout this journey,” said Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnicovas, via the team statement. “This has been a long and difficult road for him, and this was a difficult decision to make. The organization is behind him and he has our full support. Our medical and coaching staff continue to remain committed to rehabilitating Lonzo and working with him throughout this next phase to ensure his healthy return to basketball.”
Despite Ball’s poor condition, the Bulls could no longer use his absence as a crutch. Prior to the start of this season, coach Billy Donovan bluntly said he had prepared his team as if Paul would not play in 2022-23. Chicago now has to face the potential reality that Ball may never play another game to get the franchise.
After reaching a signing and trade with New Orleans in the 2021 season, Ball appeared in just 35 games before the general pain swelled into an inability to run, jump, or climb stairs without pain. He underwent an initial meniscus surgery in January 2022, and a second procedure in late September. Before his second operation, 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’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a 30 to 60 degree range on my knee and it’s bent so I have no strength. And I can’t hold myself. Until I can do those things, I can’t play. I’ve been in rehab. She was It’s getting better. But it hasn’t gotten to the point where I can get out there and actually get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery was the next step.”
Ball has two years left on his $42 million contract. There are hardship provisions in the collective bargaining agreement that allow the Bulls to receive roster and exempt payroll for extended injury-related absences. The Bulls are expected to petition the league office and be given the full scope of protection. But it just goes away.
Chicago was left with a massive void at point guard that it tried to fill for 1 1/2 seasons and an appearance that didn’t last long yet. Without roof space or significant venture capital, the bulls are in trouble. Trade for another key keeper is the most likely route.
To redeem an entry-level player, the Bulls will need to trade Zach LaVine or DeMar DeRozan this summer. Starting center Nikola Vucevic, in the final season of his contract, might have extracted some value had the Bulls traded him before the deadline. Now he can escape as an unrestricted free agent, with a opposing team having less incentive to trade assets in his favor if they can sign him directly.
Second year guard Ayo Dosunmu had a great position with the ball last season and for part of this season before signing Beverley as a free agent in February. Paul’s diagnosis could make it more likely that Dusonmu and Beverly, both Chicago natives, will be re-signed. The Bull can turn the team over to Dosunmu and out-develop, while Beverley maintains short-term stability in the backcourt.
The chances of Coby White staying in Chicago increased as well with the Bulls needing to play quality guard and perimeter shooting. Ball hits a career-high 42.3 percent after hitting 7.4 3-pointers per game last season, supporting his surprising 2021 boast that he is among the best shooters in the NBA. White, 23, will be a restricted free agent this summer. He’s a career high 36.4 percent from 3 points and he’s adjusting into his fourth season.
But the bulls are approaching the tax threshold and are unlikely to be able to keep everyone without going over it. Given the way the extended run and playoff appearances went last season, and now this no-ball season, it’s time for the Bulls to chase down their favorite quest for continuity with this group.
Rebuilding is required and the focus should be in this off season.
Third ball surgery and second season in a row will likely clear all remaining doubts as this list has come to an end.
(Top photo: Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
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