Bulls’ Top Exec Reverses Course on Lonzo Ball Decision: Report

Lonzo Ball

Getty Lonzo Ball #2 of the Chicago Bulls.

It was less than two weeks ago when Chicago Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Artruras Karnisovas said the team was not planning to petition the league for a Disabled Player Exception for injured point guard Lonzo Ball. However, he also said that he did not expect Ball to be healthy enough to play at any point during the 2023-24 season.

That caveat laid the path for the official announcement that they would indeed apply for relief.

“The Chicago Bulls have applied to the NBA for a Disabled Player Exception worth $10.2 million due to injury of Lonzo Ball, who is expected to miss the entire 2023-24 season,” tweeted The Athletic and Stadium NBA insider Shams Charania on July 2.

Ball, 25, missed the entire 2022-23 season after three surgeries to address a torn meniscus and soreness that knocked him out of commission after just 35 games in 2021-22.

He most recently underwent a ligament transplant surgery in March which is a rarity among professional athletes with very little evidence showing that a return to his previous level of performance can be expected if and when he eventually is finally healthy enough to get back on the floor.

Karnivoas had said that he did not plan on applying for the exception.

Ball averaged 13.0 points, 5.4 assists, and 5.1 rebounds with 1.8 steals while shooting 42.3% from beyond the arc in 2021-22. With him on the floor, the Bulls boasted a plus-2.9 net rating ranking in the 66th percentile, per Cleaning The Glass.

Their best lineup featured Ball alongside 2023 All-Defense First-Teamer Alex Caruso and the Bulls’ top trio of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic. That group posted a plus-20.6 net rating which ranked in the 100th percentile, though they only got 189 possessions out of it the entire season.

The Bulls went 22-13 with him and have gone 59-65 in the season-plus since he initially injured his knee in a January 14 matchup against the Golden State Warriors.

Bulls Options if Disabled Player Exception is Approved

The Disabled Player Exception gives conditional financial relief for teams when a player is deemed unable to play for the entirety of the following season. Teams have until January 15 of the current season to apply with an independent review panel appointed by the league left to determine whether or not to grant the relief: half of Ball’s 2023-24 salary.

That $10.2 million can only be applied under certain circumstances, per the NBA:

A team may replace a player who suffers a season-ending injury or illness with one player signed to a contract with a salary of up to the lesser of (i) 50% of the disabled player’s current salary, or (ii) the amount of the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Salary Exception for the season in which the Disabled Player Exception is used.

The player also has to be in the final year of their contract if acquired via trade or, if used on a free agent, can only be for a one-year deal. A team would retain the player’s bird rights but they do not get an additional roster spot which would require a Hardship Exemption.

This exception has to be used by March 10. And, while there is some thought that they might not be looking to use it now, it does position them to take advantage of the buyout market after the trade deadline in February by which point they will know if they are moving forward with this core or going in a different direction.

They are currently $11.3 million below the first luxury tax apron.

One other important note to remember: The Bulls would get no actual relief under the salary cap, just the ability to acquire a player up to said value. They would have to go through a separate process to have the entirety of Ball’s remaining $41.8 million wiped from the ledger.

Ball’s four-year $80 million contract is set to expire after the 2024-25 season and has a $21.4 million player option in the final year.

Chicago applied for and was denied an exception for forward Patrick Williams after he suffered torn wrist ligaments that knocked him out of all but 17 games in 2021-22. He returned late in that season — a scenario that would have required a corresponding roster move to accommodate him (or Ball next season) had they gotten approval — and played in all 82 games this past season

Bulls Have Gone About Replacing Lonzo Ball

After scraping the post-trade deadline landscape for Patrick Beverley last season, Karnisovas did not wait too long to fulfill his promise to address the point guard spot early in free agency, re-signing fifth-year guard Coby White to a three-year, $33 million contract and bringing in Milwaukee Bucks forward Jevon Carter on a three-year, $20 million pact.

The Bulls also have Caruso in-house and could still bring back Ayo Dosunmu, though NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson noted that speculation of a potential sign-and-trade has grown as his restricted free agency has gone on.

None of those players brings all that Ball did but Karnisovas is making sure they won’t be caught as unprepared as they were last season.