NBA Grants Exception for Bulls Star Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball

Getty Lonzo Ball #2 of the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls have learned of their fate at the hands of the NBA’s decision-makers.

“The NBA has granted the Bulls a $10.2 million Disabled Player Exception for the season-ending loss of Lonzo Ball,” tweeted Stadium and The Athletic NBA insider Shams Charania on July 13.

Chicago applied for the exception on July 2 and was awaiting the decision by an independent panel selected by the league.

Ball, 25, suffered a knee injury in January 2022 and has been sidelined ever since. He is expected to miss the entire 2023-24 campaign, per executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas, who had initially said there were no plans to apply for relief despite announcing the expectation on June 22.

It is unclear what the Bulls will do with the exception that expires in March. They are $8.5 million below the luxury tax threshold, per Spotrac, and are not prone to paying the tax, having only done so one time.

There are specific circumstances under which they can use the exception to acquire a player, with the key being that said player has to be in the final year of his contract.

That could lead the Bulls to seek out a target closer to the trade deadline in February.

This decision only applies to this season, and the Bulls don’t get any tangible salary cap relief, which would suggest something being done is more likely than not. They would have to go through a separate process to have his salary completely wiped from their books if his injuries are deemed career-ending, a distinct possibility at this point.

Lonzo Ball’s Painful Journey

Ball is heading into the third year of a four-year, $80 million contract. He has a $21.4 million player option for the 2024-25 season.

The $10.2 million allocation represents half of Ball’s salary for the 2023-24 season.

He has undergone three surgeries on his knee since the Bulls acquired him via sign-and-trade in the summer of 2021. Ball averaged 13.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.8 steals while shooting 42.3% from beyond the arc and providing stellar two-way play.

His most recent surgery is a rarity among athletes and aims to restore his quality of life.

Ball was supposed to be out for just under two months with what was initially soreness and was later diagnosed as a tear. He then dealt with soreness from the procedure to repair the meniscus, which left loose cartilage that caused some nerve issues.

The former No. 2 overall pick spoke of barely being able to walk up a flight of stairs during his exit interview last season but was seemingly making progress over the offseason.

Nothing came of clips of him running (with an abnormal gait) or dunking a basketball.

Bulls Have a Plan

Karnisovas made it clear during his exit interview on April 15 that he would address the point guard spot this offseason and worked quickly. He signed Jevon Carter away from the Milwaukee Bucks and re-signed fourth-year guard Coby White; one of just two players to precede Karnisovas’ tenure.

The other is two-time All-Star Zach LaVine, who has also been mired in trade rumors this offseason but remains the franchise cornerstone.

White, while perhaps not valued quite to that level, has beaten the odds on this team.

Teammate Ayo Dosunmu’s future is less certain, mostly because nothing has happened yet and little has been said as he sits in restricted free agency. All signs point to his return either on the qualifying offer or a new contract but the Bulls have already had to deal with one surprise.

If Dosunmu returns, the Bulls should be better off than they were heading into last season with Carter in a rotation that figures to include both Dosunmu and White as well as Alex Caruso.