With Lonzo Ball’s future in jeopardy, where do the Bulls go from here?

The easiest thing for the Bulls to do to offset the franchise news of Lonzo Ball is to re-sign Patrick Beverley this offseason.

But that would be like putting a bandage on a wound.

By now, it’s clear the Bulls should be out of it.

After inexplicably going quiet at this year’s deadline and giving him an opportunity to launch a rebuilding tool that everyone can see this roster needs, the Bulls have no choice this summer.

Ball is scheduled to undergo a third surgery on his left knee, which threatens to sideline him for the 2023-24 season. If that scenario plays out, Ball will miss 2 1/2 straight seasons. He last appeared in an NBA game on January 14, 2022. He may not take the court for the next contest until October 2024.

And now questions about whether Ball will play at all again have been legitimized. If the 25-year-old lynchpin recovers and returns to play, it will be a great achievement. But it’s fair to wonder if Ball will ever regain the form he was on the verge of becoming a two-way star before a chronic knee problem led to this ongoing saga.

“My main focus has been getting back on the field and getting to a place where I can rejoin my teammates,” Ball said in a team statement. “This has been a frustrating process, but I’m confident these next steps are the best way forward. The support of my family, friends, fans and medical staff throughout my recovery will keep me going. I can’t wait to get back to what I love most – playing basketball .

Ball will undergo a cartilage transplant in his left knee and will be out indefinitely. Bulls PR said the team will provide updates as needed. A date for Ball’s surgery has not been announced.

“I continue to admire Lonzo’s perseverance throughout this journey,” Bulls vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas said in a team release. “This has been a long and challenging road for him and this decision has been difficult to make. The organization is behind him and he has our full support. Our training and medical staff remain committed to Lonzo’s rehabilitation and working with him throughout the next phase to ensure his healthy his return to basketball.

Despite Ball’s unfortunate situation, the Bulls can no longer use his absence as a crutch. Before the start of this season, coach Billy Donovan openly said he was preparing his team as if Ball would not play in 2022-23. Chicago must now face the possible reality that Ball may never play another game with the franchise.

After signing with New Orleans through 2021, Ball appeared in just 35 games before general soreness gave way to an inability to run, jump or climb stairs without pain. He underwent the first meniscus surgery in January 2022 and the second joint surgery at the end of September. Before his second surgery, Ball revealed the extent of his knee problems when asked what happens when he tries to play basketball.

“Yeah, I literally can’t,” he said in September. “I can’t run. I can’t run or jump. The knee is bent 30 to 60 degrees, so I have no strength. And I can’t catch myself. So I can’t play until I can do those things. I did rehab. It was getting better. But it wasn’t to the point where I could get out there and really go out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery was the next step.”

Ball has two years left on his $42 million contract. The collective bargaining agreement has hardship provisions that allow the Bulls to receive roster and salary relief due to extended injuries. The Bulls are expected to petition the league office and be granted full protection. But that only goes so far.

Chicago is left with a huge void at point guard, which it has been without for 1 1/2 seasons and a short-lived postseason appearance. Without cap space or significant draft capital, the Bulls are in trouble. Changing to another lead shield is the most likely route.

To get a starter-level player back, the Bulls would have to trade Zach LaVine or DeMar DeRoza this summer. Starting center Nikola Vučević, in the final season of his contract, might have gained value if the Bulls had traded him before the deadline. Now he can walk away as an unrestricted free agent, and a contending team will have less incentive to trade assets for him if they can sign him outright.

Sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu filled in admirably for Ball last season and for a while this season before Beverley signed a free agent in February. Ball’s prediction could make it more likely that Dosunmu and Beverley, both Chicago natives, will re-sign. The Bulls could move the team to Dosunmu and chase away his development, while keeping Beverley would preserve short-term stability in the backcourt.

The probability of Coby White staying in Chicago also increases for the Bulls, who need quality guard play and an ultimate shot. Last season, Ball shot a career-high 42.3 percent from the field on 7.4 three-pointers per game, backing up his surprising 2021 preseason brag that he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA. White, 23, is a restricted free agent this summer. He is a career 36.4 percent 3-point shooter who is gaining ground in his fourth season.

But the Bulls are getting close to the tax threshold and probably won’t be able to keep all the people above it. Given the way last season’s stretch and playoff appearance went, and now this season without the ball, it’s time for the Bulls to look to continue with this group.

Rebuilding is required and should be the focus of this offseason.

Ball’s third cut and second straight season likely wiped out erases any remaining doubt that this roster is finished.

(Top photo: Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

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