It seemed like a matter of when not if and now we know the answer. The Chicago Bulls officially announced that starting point guard Lonzo Ball will not return this season, instead focusing on a return to the court and, more importantly, full health by next season.
“The Chicago Bulls are expected to shut down guard Lonzo Ball for the remainder of the season,” tweeted The Athletic NBA insider Shams Charania on February 21. “Pain and discomfort have persisted in Ball’s left knee following two surgeries at the beginning and end of 2022.”
Soon after, the team made it official via their website.
“Despite making significant increases in strength and function over the past several months, Bulls guard Lonzo Ball continues to experience performance limiting discomfort during participation in high level basketball-related activities,” said Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas in a statement. “Considering the required time period to achieve the necessary level of fitness to return-to-play and the current stage of the NBA season, Ball will not return this season. The focus for Ball will continue to be on the resolution of his discomfort and a full return for the 2023-24 season.”
Ball only saw the floor in 35 games for the Bulls last season before suffering a torn meniscus.
The injury required one surgery to repair and another – in September – that was supposed to alleviate the pain that even hindered Ball’s day-to-day life.
There has been marked progress for the fifth-year man out of UCLA up to and including video of him dunking a basketball. But even in those clips, there were signs all was still not right with the oft-injured Ball including an abnormal gait when jogging.
He still had not progressed to running or cutting.
Ball, 25, still has two years and nearly $42 million remaining on his contract after this season with a player option in the final year.
The Bulls Already Made a Corresponding Move
Perhaps they were holding out hope that Ball would return this season – he initially received 6-to-8-week and 4-to-6-week timelines, respectively, after each procedure. But after failing to properly address Ball’s absence which has been a key factor in the team’s offensive struggles this season, the Bulls added journeyman point guard Patrick Beverley to the fold.
“Beverley is expected to step in as the starting point guard for the Bulls’ final 23 games, replacing streaky second-year guard Ayo Dosunmu,” reports Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. “The addition gives the Bulls another reliable perimeter defender, some much-needed 3-point shooting ability, energy, intensity, and toughness.”
Beverley won’t contribute to the offense as a facilitator or even be as good of a floor-spacer. But the boisterous point guard is a Chicago native who takes the opportunity ahead of him very seriously.
“If you think I went hard for other teams, just imagine how I’m gonna go hard for this one,” he said on ‘The Pat Bev Podcast with Rone’ on February 21.
Beverley – who has not missed the postseason since 2018 and just two times in his career – has his work cut out for him with the Bulls sitting 11th in the East and two games out of the Play-In Tournament.
“I figured I can make a playoff push with the Bulls right now and kind of pop them up a little bit. The East kind of weak. You feel me? You know, not to disrespect anybody in the East, but a lot of people went to the West.”
What’s Next For Bulls?
The Bulls have an uphill climb in the standings but they have the 12th-easiest remaining strength of schedule in the league (fifth in the East), per Tankathon. Can Beverley do enough to get them over the top? What happens if next season rolls around and Ball is still not ready? As it stands he will already have missed nearly two seasons of his career and will need to get reacclimated.
Perhaps the Bulls look to better hedge against that this summer.
But that is still at least 23 games away. This team is still looking to fight for the playoffs and has to hope Beverley’s streak continues with his hometown team.