Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas confirmed the reports that intended starting point guard Lonzo Ball is expected to miss the entire 2023-24 campaign as he continues to work his way back from a knee injury.
“Going into the offseason, I think our expectation is that he’s not coming back next season, and he’s gonna continue on his recovery,” Karnisovas said via the team’s YouTube channel on June 22. “If he comes back, it would be great. But we’re just going to treat this offseason and getting ready for the season that he’s not going to be back next season.”
Ball has undergone three surgeries since being sign-and-traded to the Bulls in 2021.
The latest procedure, a ligament replacement surgery, is a rarity in the sports world and is aimed at improving his quality of life more so than getting him back on the basketball court.
Bulls Waiting Out Lonzo Ball’s Recovery
Karnisovas’ note about Ball being off crutches is a positive takeaway. Ball’s early recovery was marred by frequent stops whenever he tried to ramp up his intensity and, while this may be a long way from any type of progress beyond that point, he is progressing.
“He’s recovering nicely,” Karnisova said. “I think last month he got off the crutches, and he’s recovering, doing his rehab. Everything is going well.”
Still, as of Karnisovas’ appearance, it had been 525 days since Ball was healthy enough to play.
Asked if he had any “confidence” Karnisovas, said “no”.
“No, I hope eventually that you’re going to see him on a basketball court again,” said Karnisovas. “But I don’t expect him back next season.”
He also said that the team is not considering applying for the disabled player exception which would allow the Bulls to clear half of Ball’s salary off their books for this season, perhaps providing some wiggle room to further improve the team in his absence. Karnisovas’ answer still establishes the Bulls’ belief that Ball will miss the upcoming season.
An independent panel would still have to concur for the Bulls to receive relief, however. Ball is heading into the third year of a four-year, $80 million contract and has a $21.4 million player option for next season.
Rival GM Warned of Bulls’ Offseason Plans
All of this falls right in line with what a rival executive told Heavy Sports NBA insider Sean Deveney about the Bulls’ plans for this coming offseason. Karnisovas spoke of bringing back who they could and adding to improve the roster.
“They are not going to make a move for a point guard, that has not been in the pipeline for them at all,” the GM told Heavy Sports in April. “They have pretty much put everything into the idea that Lonzo is coming back and if he doesn’t, then maybe…the front office can take cover in the fact that, ‘Hey we signed a guy who got injured and that’s that’.
What that means for the rest of the offseason remains to be seen, literally as Karnisovas was posed with giving a message to potentially disappointed fans.
“I think we made a move in the draft,” he said. “I know it’s a disappointment it’s not in first round but we did. But they will have to wait I think until the free agency to see what we look like after that.”
He certainly has put the onus on himself and his staff to deliver.