This is not how anyone expected it to go, not when the Chicago Bulls traded for and signed a then-24-year-old Lonzo Ball to a four-year, $80 million contract.
Ball is set to undergo a cartilage transplant surgery in his right knee, per the Bulls.
“My main focus has been on returning to the court and getting to a place where I can rejoin my teammates,” Ball said in a statement released through the team’s website. “This has been a frustrating process, but I’m confident these next steps are the best path forward. The support of my family, friends, fans and medical staff throughout my recovery is what keeps me moving forward. I can’t wait to get back to what I love doing most – playing basketball.”
This will be the third surgical procedure Ball has undergone in the last 14 months and the fourth since he entered the league in 2017. Initially given a six-to-eight-week timeline, Ball is expected to miss most if not all of the 2023-24 season as well.
Furthermore, per Shams Charania appearing on ‘The Rally’ on March 16, despite optimism that his career can be revived, there is just a “50-50 chance” the procedure will take.
“I continue to admire Lonzo’s perseverance throughout this journey,” Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arutras Karnisovas said in the team’s press release. “This has been a long and challenging road for him, and this decision has been a difficult one to make. The organization is behind him, and he has our full support. Our training and medical staff continue their commitment to Lonzo’s rehabilitation and to working with him throughout this next phase to ensure his healthy return to basketball.”
Ball has seemingly made significant progress in recent weeks from not being able to walk up stairs without pain to at least managing it well enough to do some basketball-related activities.
But it has not progressed as much or as fast as the Bulls or Ball would have liked.
“There’s growing pressure for the next procedure to give him a pathway to heal so he can play again,” reported ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski. “Ball made incremental progress in recent months but has yet to be able to run, cut or jump without pain.”
Lonzo Ball Injury Puts Bulls In Financial Bind
There are provisions in the CBA that could allow the Bulls to have Ball’s remaining two years and roughly $41.8 million removed from their books. But it remains a far-off possibility at this point with both sides focused on his recovery and some tight books.
“Expect the Bulls to petition the league office and be granted the full extent of protection,” wrote Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic.
Chicago also has to consider their overall direction with DeMar DeRozan heading into the final year of his contract and Nikola Vucevic set to his unrestricted free agency this summer.
Ball was the lynchpin to what the Bulls were trying to accomplish.
It is hard to envision a path to recoup that kind of value without seriously altering the makeup of the rest of the roster. That might have very well been necessary anyway given how this season has turned out. Now, it becomes arguably their top priority even as they seek to address a woeful lack of three-point shooting and modern NBA forwards or big men.
Bulls FO Will Face Intense Scrutiny
A rival executive described Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas to Heavy Sports NBA insider Sean Deveney as “defensive” over some of his moves even holding out on correcting them at the risk of having to admit he made a mistake – a damning trait for a front office executive.
“You can see why Arturas feels a little bit under siege,” the exec told Deveney. “Nothing has worked out how he expected there. … “Not that that is coming from ownership. The Bulls’ ownership, to their credit, the Reinsdorfs are really great about hiring their people and letting them do their jobs. But they’re getting that pressure from the media and fans and, really, Arturas is probably putting it on himself.”
That sort of autonomy comes with consequences and, after Karnisovas operated under the assumption Ball would return this season, the noise will only grow louder this offseason – especially if they fail to even make the Play-In Tournament as things currently sit.