The Chicago Bulls have received mixed reviews for their offseason to this point but their biggest need, clarity on Lonzo Ball’s health, has yet to be resolved. Heading into next season, health is the singular most important factor for this team.
They are banking on it and internal development to surpass last season’s surprising mark. A second consecutive first-round exit will not be so easily explained away. As Billy Donovan told The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry, they have “even more to prove”.
If they are going to achieve that goal, however, they need their starting point guard.
That is not necessarily a secret. But Bobby Marks’ updated “Ultimate 2022 free agency guide” has that as the sole box left unchecked from a polarizing offseason.
Twice Is Not as Nice
The Bulls’ offseason has consisted of drafting Dalen Terry, re-signing Zach LaVine, and bringing in the duo of Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond. With 15 guaranteed contracts, some suspect the Bulls are done in free agency.
They are about $2 million below the tax line with roughly $7 million of the mid-level exception left over, per Mark Karantzoulis of CHGO_Bulls.
Despite some handwringing over what holes they have left to fill, Marks lists Ball’s health twice.
First, the 6-foot-6 point guard is mentioned as the top option under the sub-heading “what to watch”. Marks notes the Bulls’ 27-13 record before he suffered a torn meniscus and bone bruise that has plagued him into the offseason.
The Bulls went 22-13 with him in the lineup, per NBA.com, stumbling to a 19-23 finish and a swift exit from the playoffs.
A Blank Bill of Health
The second mention of Ball is a reminder of just how uncertain his health status is with training camp still over two months away. His injury history is such that the prolonged recovery is a valid cause for concern.
Ball has played in fewer games in each of the last two seasons following a career-high 63-game (out of 72 possible) campaign during the 2019-20 season.
This video from trainer Chris Johnson is the most we have seen from Ball on the court this summer.
When asked about Ball’s status on draft night, Bulls general manager Marc Eversley was fairly vague. He declined to offer a current status and would only say that his “hope” was for Ball to be ready by camp.
He did say that the reports from the teams training staff were positive.
That sentiment was echoed by Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas who took it a step further saying the $80 million lead guard was “improving”.
The Bulls certainly hope so. Otherwise, they could be forced to roll with a combination of Caruso, Dragic, Ayo Dosunmu, and Coby White all trying to make up for what Ball brings when he is on the floor.
Even with improvement from Dosumu and White, the playmaking gap is large outside of 36-year-old Dragic.
Bulls Taking Big Risk this Offseason
The Bulls have had a “dud” of an offseason, writes Forbes’ Jason Patt. Many teams in the conference upgraded their respective rosters. That includes the Atlanta Hawks who went from an Eastern Conference Finals berth in 2021 to a first-round out like the Bulls this past season.
They paid a steep price to land Dejounte Murray in hopes of avoiding a similar fate next season.
Chicago has locked in LaVine for the next five years. Not much is certain beyond that, though, with the other two All-Stars on the wrong side of 30. Ball should be on a similar timeline as the LaVine.
But, until there is some real clarity as to his status, his health remains the Bulls’ single most significant need.