The Chicago Bulls just took a gut punch on the heels of their 117-96 win over the hosting Denver Nuggets on March 8.
“There is a growing possibility that Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball will need a third surgical procedure on his right knee that likely would require another six months of recovery and rehabilitation,” reported ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski citing sources close to the situation. “The Bulls and Ball’s representatives with Klutch Sports are working together and consulting with specialists before a final decision on surgery is made.”
Ball has been out since last January, first with a torn meniscus and, then, with the pain that has yet to subside forcing him into a second (technically third) procedure in September. As Wojnarowski notes, this new projected timeline would run right into training camp next season.
And, after what would be nearly – or even up to and beyond – two years away from the game, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about how tenable it is to maintain this current plan of getting him back to unlock this group. It would be his third procedure in less than two years and his fourth in five NBA seasons possibly all before he turns 26 in October.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, getting out from under the burden of the nearly $42 million remaining on his contract after this season isn’t a cut-and-dry decision according to ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks.
The final year of that deal is via a $21.4 million player option.
Marks said in a subsequent tweet the Bulls petitioning the league for relief from this situation is “the last resort and not something I could see happening in the near future”. Still, it is not something they can afford to completely rule out either.
The Bulls Have Some Options
“Because it’s past the 1-year anniversary of Lonzo Ball’s last game, Bulls have the right at any time to apply to have his salary removed — but an NBA/NBAPA jointly agreed upon physician or a fitness-to-play panel would make that decision on whether it’s career-ending,” tweeted Cody Westerlund of 670 The Score citing the league’s policy. “The disabled player exception would be for about half of Lonzo Ball’s salary (so a good chunk of money), but it would have to be used on a player in last year of his contract. So not a great deal of flexibility there.”
Westerlund ultimately agreed with Marks – and Johnson – that the option is still a ways away for the Bulls from his perspective.
Johnson noted that the Bulls have insurance on Ball’s contract but would need for his injury to be ruled career-ending which Ball has said he does not.
“Teams have until Jan. 15 in season to apply for DPE,” Westerlund noted.
The Bulls officially shut Ball down on February 21, already over one year since he last took the court for them at the time. Despite a decision on Ball not being needed in that regard, it does call into question how the Bulls will proceed this coming offseason with several key roster decisions either upcoming or needing to be made.
Bulls Heading for a Critical Offseason
This past summer saw Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas operate as though he expected to get Ball back in time to round into form and make a push into the playoffs.
That plan has backfired as he did not adequately address the Bulls’ preexisting issues – rebounding and three-point shooting – leaving them six games below .500.
They are also still on the outside looking in on the Play-In Tournament.
Karnisovas must proceed differently this offseason but just how different remains unclear. A few weeks ago, a total blow-up would likely have been universally accepted. Now, following their convincing win over the Nuggets who own the NBA’s best home record, an argument can be made that what they really need to do is replace Ball.
That is easier said than done. He is both a connector on offense as well as an outlet for the team’s stars who all are quite effective in different ways of getting to and operating in the painted area.
Signing Patrick Beverley was never going to fix all that ailed this team this season. But, what it has done, is reignited the spark enough to see that there is still something there, it just needs to be tweaked.