In yet another devastating turn, Chicago Bulls point guard Lonzo Ball is set to undergo a third procedure on his injured knee.
“Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball will undergo a third surgery on his left knee that is expected to cost him most, if not all, of the 2023-24 season,” reported Shams Charania of The Athletic on March 16. “The sides are optimistic of the procedure reviving Ball’s career.”
Ball will undergo a cartilage transplant in his left knee and remains out indefinitely, per the team.
This will be the third procedure on the knee in the last 14 months and the fourth in Ball’s career. Ball, 25, is in the second year of a four-year, $80 million contract with a $21.4 player option in the final year. It is possible the Bulls could get financial relief from the remaining money owed to the former second-overall pick but the procedure requires acknowledgment by all sides that the injury is career-threatening.
The possibility of a third procedure was reported on March 8 by Wojnarowski but the projected potential timeline would be devastating.
“A timetable for his return is uncertain and won’t be known until surgery is completed,” tweeted NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson confirming the report. “And even then, the timeline could be nebulous.”
Both Ball and the Bulls have said they do not consider the injury to be career-threatening at this point, but Charania’s update certainly paints the entire situation in a very different and concerning light.
“Expect the Bulls to petition the league office and be granted the full extent of protection,” added Darnell Mayberry to Charania’s report. But there have been multiple challenges to this line of thinking (which gets a boost with the public sentiments expressed by Wojnarowski).
Adding to that change in tone is ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski who tweeted plainly that “there are concerns about Ball’s ability to resume his career”.
“Ball made incremental progress in recent months, but has yet to be able to run, cut or jump without experiencing pain,” Wojnarowski wrote in a subsequent report.
Ball is believed to have suffered nerve damage in the knee from the initial procedure he underwent last January, leading to comparisons to former Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy and former Bulls star Derrick Rose both of whom saw their respective careers end or altered after suffering devastating knee injuries.
What was initially supposed to sideline Ball for “six to eight weeks” will push three full seasons.
Billy Donovan Feels for Lonzo Ball
“I think, a lot of times it’s easy to look at it through the lens of, ‘Gosh, I wish he was out here playing for us,’ said Bulls head coach Billy Donovan on February 22, per Johnson. “But to me, I take a totally different perspective of just what he has had to go through. That’s the thing that really bothers me. That he’s 25 years old at this point and time of his career, and the game really for over a year has been taken away from him.”
Ball had seemingly made notable progress, posting videos of himself working out including dunking a basketball.
That much seemed so far off when he spoke with the media at the end of last season.
“I’m finally seeing some improvement, which is nice to see,” Ball told Rob Schaefer for NBC Sports Chicago in February. “It’s still not obviously where I want to be. But it’s definitely positive light at the end of the tunnel.”
An unfortunate situation on a human level, it also puts the Bulls’ future in an even murkier position than it was before.
The Bulls Need a New Point Guard
If it was not clear before, the Bulls now know that they need to seriously add starting point guard to their list of needs this coming offseason right alongside size on the wings and reliable three-point shooting.
They have tried to patchwork the point guard spot with a platoon of veterans (Patrick Beverley, Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso) and youngsters (Ayo Dosunmu, Coby White).
None offered the combination of skills Ball did which helped unlock this group.
The Bulls have cobbled together a top-5 defense in his absence but have not been able to replace his floor spacing or IQ leading to a jumbled and stagnant offense far too often.
Chicago is also facing the real possibility that Nikola Vucevic opts to sign elsewhere and has DeMar DeRozan heading into the final year of his contract. That is in addition to their aforementioned list of needs and a lack of draft capital to fill out the roster or make tanking worthwhile this season, hence their push for the playoffs.
Whatever happens, they will need a new lead guard for the 2023-24 season.