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

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

But that would be like putting a Band-Aid on a gash wound.

By now, it’s clear the Bulls should be beyond that.

After inexplicably remaining quiet at this year’s deadline, letting an opportunity pass to kickstart the retool everyone can see this roster needs, the Bulls are left with 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 materializes, Ball will miss 2 1/2 consecutive seasons. He last appeared in an NBA game on Jan. 14, 2022. He might not take the court for his next contest until October 2024.

And now questions about whether Ball will play again at all have been legitimized. If the 25-year-old lynchpin recovers and returns to play, it will be a major accomplishment. But it’s fair to wonder whether Ball, on track to becoming a two-way star before chronic knee discomfort resulted in this ongoing saga, ever regains his form.

“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 team-issued statement. “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.”

Ball will undergo a cartilage transplant in his left knee and remain out indefinitely. Bulls public relations said the team will provide updates when appropriate. No date has been announced for Ball’s surgery.

“I continue to admire Lonzo’s perseverance throughout this journey,” Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas said via the team statement. “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.”

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

After arriving in a sign-and-trade with New Orleans in the 2021 offseason, Ball appeared in only 35 games before general soreness ballooned into an inability to run, jump or climb stairs pain-free. He underwent an initial meniscus surgery in January 2022 and a second scope procedure in late September. Prior to his second operation, Ball revealed the extent of his knee issues 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. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees on my knee is bent that I have no force. And I can’t catch myself. So until I can do those things, I can’t play. I did rehab. It was getting better. But it was not to a point where I could get out there and actually go out there and run at full speed or jump. So surgery was the next step.”

Ball has two years remaining on his contract at $42 million. There are hardship provisions in the collective bargaining agreement that allow the Bulls to receive roster and salary relief for extended injury related absences. The Bulls are expected to petition the league office and be granted the full extent of protection. But it only goes so far.

Chicago is left with a massive void at point guard it has unsuccessfully tried to fill for 1 1/2 seasons and a short-lived postseason appearance. Without cap space or significant draft capital, the Bulls are in a bind. A trade for another lead guard is the most likely route.

To recoup a starter-level player, the Bulls would need to trade Zach LaVine or DeMar DeRozan this summer. Starting center Nikola Vučević, in the final season of his contract, might have extracted some value had the Bulls traded him before the deadline. Now he can get away as an unrestricted free agent, with a rival team having less incentive to trade assets for him if they can sign him outright.

Second-year guard Ayo Dosunmu filled in admirably for Ball last season and for a time this season before Beverley signed as a free agent in February. Ball’s prognosis could increase the likelihood that Dosunmu and Beverley, both Chicago natives, re-sign. The Bulls could turn the team over to Dosunmu and ride out his development, while retaining Beverley would maintain short-term stability in the backcourt.

The chances increase of Coby White remaining in Chicago as well with the Bulls in need of quality guard play and perimeter shooting. Ball shot a career-high 42.3 percent on 7.4 3-pointers per game last season, backing up his surprising 2021 preseason boast that he’s among the NBA’s best shooters. White, 23, will be a restricted free agent this summer. He’s a career 36.4 percent 3-point shooter who is finding his footing in his fourth season.

But the Bulls are nearing the tax threshold and aren’t likely to be able to retain everyone without exceeding it. Given the way last season’s stretch run and playoff appearance went, and now this season without Ball, it’s time the Bulls punt their preferred pursuit of continuity with this group.

A rebuild is required and should be the focus this offseason.

A third surgery for Ball and a second consecutive season likely wiped out removes all remaining doubt this roster has reached its expiration.

(Top Photo: Quinn Harris / Getty Images)

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