In yet another gut wrenching chapter in the Lonzo Ball knee recovery saga, ESPN reported on Thursday morning that “there is a growing possibility” the Bulls guard may need a third surgery, which would hold him out at least six more months.
Ultimately, this is not surprising. Ball’s knee was clearly not healing on its own. If Ball is still experiencing pain, then it stands to reason he may need another procedure to hopefully get back on the court.
This is an example of “if, then” reasoning, a simple concept children can begin to understand at only three years old according to the National Institute of Health. If you eat your vegetables, then you can have dessert. If you get good grades, then you can go to college. If Ball is still unable to progress, then he probably has to consider his options.
This news comes with a string of conditional statements that should have longer term implications for the Bulls, and most importantly, Ball’s health and wellbeing.
If Ball has his third procedure in less than 18 months, then his career could be in jeopardy. Even if Ball can get back on the court, then it would be unlikely he can return to his peak form, at least in the foreseeable future. This is unbearably sad for a 25-year-old, whose play single-handedly brought joy to a downtrodden franchise.
Not only is this terrible news for Ball, it further complicates things for the Bulls, who have not figured out how to play without their point guard.
The Bulls went 19-24 after Ball got hurt last season and are presently 30-36 without him this year. That’s 49-60 with over 100 games of sample size with a 45 percent winning percentage. That equates to a 37-win season…exactly the pace the Bulls are on this year.
With this news, the Bulls can’t rely on the if, then conditional reasoning that Ball will get back to healthy, and when he does, the Bulls will get back to their late 2021 style of play.
They need to make adjustments, and that will be easier said than done.
With Nikola Vucevic, Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu, Javonte Green and now Patrick Beverley are all heading into free agency, the Bulls will likely have to operate above the projected $134 million salary cap assuming they bring back any of their free agents.
Can they justify spending and operating above the cap just to bring back the same group that has underachieved to this degree?
The Bulls can file for the Disabled Player Exception (DPE), which, if granted, could earn them half of Ball’s remaining salary, up to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. That would mean an additional $10.2 million to play with, but it comes with few caveats.
One, this money would still count toward the total salary cap and could push the Bulls into the dreaded luxury tax. Right or wrong, the Bulls were never going to utilize this exception on a low-level free agent that would put them into the tax for a 30-36 team.
Two, this exception can only be used in a trade, or to pick up a free agent, but the player must be in the final year of their contract. It may be more useful to use the exception in the summer when they can find a free agent that would be more impactful.
In his post-trade deadline press conference, Arturas Karnisovas said he has remade this roster in creative ways before, so he’s confident he can do the same in the future. But for that to happen, they need to accept their reality, and if nothing else, this Ball news has to do it.
Of course Ball’s injury has completely derailed the Bulls plan, there is no denying that. There is proof of concept that when the Bulls were healthy, they were rolling. It’s hard to pull the ripcord when you know something works.
But the Bulls can’t fall back on the if, then statement that they’ll be fixed when Ball comes back.
That reality does not exist anymore.
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