The Chicago Bulls have put on a public face of unity and solidarity when it comes to starting point guard Lonzo Ball who missed the entire 2022-23 season after suffering a torn meniscus in January of the 2021-22 season.
Since that initial injury, Ball has undergone three surgeries including one so rare that no player has been able to return to their previous level of performance after similar procedures.
That latest procedure has apparently created the ultimate doubt for some in the organization.
“Even though publicly there has been an expression of guarded optimism regarding a future for Lonzo Ball…They don’t think it’s likely that he ever plays again,” said Chicago radio personality Dan Bernstein on the ‘Organizations Wins Championships’ podcast on May 28 citing sources with knowledge of the situation.
Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas remained as non-committal as ever when asked about Ball during his exit interview on April 15.
That is a far cry from what Bernstein is suggesting, though he does not mention Karnisovas or anyone else by name, and Ball has been adamant that he is confident he will get back to his career.
Still, it is a reality that Ball and the Bulls need to be bracing for privately if not speaking about publicly.
Brandon Roy Sends Humbling Message
“[Ball] has to be realistic with himself and what he’s going to be able to do,” former Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy told Joshua M. Hicks of The Bigs on May 16 at the 2023 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “It might not be at the level of an All-Star point guard but there are some things he can adjust to his game and he can still help a team.”
Roy’s career ended prematurely after six seasons in seven years and multiple knee surgeries.
In what would be an unfortunate twist for Ball and the Bulls, Bernstein also speculates that it is “much more likely” being done to help Ball in his day-to-day life.
At one point, in his exit interview following the 2021-22 season, Ball detailed the pain that he was experiencing doing everyday activities like going up a flight of stairs and how he was unable to put any pressure on his knee beyond a certain point.
Still, the Bulls have held off on making the final call and asking for salary cap relief from the remaining $48-plus million Ball is owed over the next two seasons.
“There are…large-scale planning issues, and, pursuant to all kinds of union issues, why they haven’t asked for the salary exemption yet,” Bernstein said. “They don’t want to send the message publicly that they’re done with him.”
For their loyalty, the Bulls are more or less locked into this group because of this, says one rival executive.
Bulls ‘Put Pretty Much Everything’ Into Lonzo Ball
Karnisovas went on about addressing the point guard position during his end-of-season availability. And the Bulls do have some incumbent options they might be well-served to look at going into the season.
But it also sounds like that may be their only real plan of attack, one rival Eastern Conference general manager told Heavy Sports NBA insider Sean Deveney.
“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. “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’.
Chicago heads into the offseason with the non-taxpayers mid-level exception (worth approx. $12.2 million, per RealGM), no draft picks in the 2023 NBA Draft, and several critical needs such as three-point shooting and size on the wings in addition to a new point guard.