Billy Donovan seldom does semantics.
The Bulls coach will try and answer every question thrown his way with as much honesty and transparency as he can, but also do so in a way that will protect his players and the brand.
So when asked last week about the status of Lonzo Ball (left knee) and a possible date in which the injured point guard would simply run out of runway for a 2022-23 regular-season debut, Donovan threw out the All-Star Break as a possible deadline in which the organization would make it official, and then said, “As much as he’s made some progress, and some slow progress, I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing, he’s just not.”
It’s not even about reading between the lines. It was Donovan all but saying Ball’s return this season was not happening, without making it official.
Expect the organization to do that sooner than later, and could actually show their hand in that decision by the Feb. 9 trade deadline.
While it was nice for Ayo Dosunmu to match his season-high 22 points in Thursday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets, it still didn’t cover up the fact that the Bulls could use more help at the point guard position, especially late in games.
Is it a high priority? Not the only one, but if the organization actually feels like they have a chance for a late-season push to try and climb to the No. 6 seed and get out of the play-in tournament it is. Dosunmu has been inconsistent, while 36-year-old Goran Dragic has been solid, but also playing the final few holes of his career.
Addressing – or ignoring – the point guard spot will also tell the rest of the league exactly how confident the Bulls are in Ball long-term. If they try and land a Fred VanVleet from Toronto, and have to use another asset not named Ball to do so, be concerned.
That means the Bulls aren’t confident in Ball’s future, and neither is the rest of the Association.
If they stay pat at the point guard position, then that could very well mean they believe in staying patient with Ball, and possibly addressing the position in the offseason if need be.
As of Friday, all that was known about the Bulls was the front office was in the war room, and taking more calls than they were making. One league executive told the Sun-Times that the asking price on Bulls talent remained very high, which goes back to last summer, when teams were inquiring on players like Coby White and Nikola Vucevic.
The Sun-Times reported last July that White was asked about by several teams, and that price was uncomfortably steep.
Considering the offseason plan was always “continuity,” it makes sense that executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas would ask for the moon, just in case anyone wanted to pay the launching fee.
But that was July. What exactly is the plan now? That’s where it gets cloudy.
Very little leaks out of the Advocate Center, and trade deadline time is always fluid, considering not every team has shown its hand just yet. The current feeling about the Bulls from one executive, however, was a complete blow-up was not in the cards. Instead, they might try and add draft currency or salary cap flexibility, while still trying to stay competitive.
Not an easy tightrope to walk in a league that is so all or nothing.
The real storyline, however, will be is this front office willing to admit mistakes with this current roster build and have the ability to pivot off of it?
The first roster flip for Karnisovas was easy because they weren’t his players.
He not only drew the blueprints for this current build, however, but picked the land and bought all the material.
A good front office can assess outside talent. A great one is fluent in self-scouting their own talent on a regular basis, and knowing when it’s run its course.
Your move, Arturas.