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The Chicago Bulls announced Tuesday morning that Lonzo Ball will be shut down for the remainder of the season. Ball, who hasn't played since Jan. 14, 2022, has suffered several setbacks in what's been a lengthy recovery process from a meniscus tear in his left knee. After first undergoing arthroscopic surgery to address what at the time was called a small meniscus tear in January 2022, Ball never returned last season following the injury and had an additional surgery eight months later in September for the same meniscus tear.  

Back in September, Ball was expected to be out for "at least a few months" with January being earmarked as the potential return date for the former No. 2 overall pick. However, when the Bulls would give updates on the star guard, it didn't sound like he was making any forward progress toward a return. Most recently on Jan. 28, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said that Ball was "nowhere near" a return to the court, and Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune reported that unless Ball made a "drastic improvement" leading up to All-Star break, the team would have a discussion about officially ruling him out for the remainder of the season. With the Bulls officially announcing that Ball won't return this season, it sounds as though he's still got a long road ahead of him before stepping back onto an NBA court.

In the Bulls statement, it notes that Ball is still experiencing discomfort in his left knee, and that the focus has now shifted toward a "full return" for the 2023-24 season:

"Despite making significant increases in strength and function over the past several months, Bulls guard Lonzo Ball continues to experience performance limiting discomfort during participation in high level basketball-related activities. Considering the required time period to achieve the necessary level of fitness to return-to-play and the current stage of the NBA season, Ball will not return this season. The focus for Ball will continue to be on the resolution of his discomfort and a full return for the 2023-24 season."

This entire situation has just been unfortunate for both Ball and the Bulls. When healthy last season, Chicago was one of the most entertaining and successful teams to watch, and that was because of Ball's presence. His role as the floor general on offense, setting up both DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine worked wonders for Chicago, and his 3-point shooting was at a career-high 42.3 percent on over seven attempts a night. He was an electrifying presence on Chicago's offense, and his defense was just as good, perhaps even better than what he offered offensively. 

When Ball was on the floor, the Bulls allowed 8.6 points fewer per possession compared to when he sat. That point differential ranked in the 96th percentile last season before he got hurt, and once he was sidelined Chicago's defense suffered significantly. The defensive tandem he created with Alex Caruso in the backcourt was arguably the best in the league, and Ball's disruptive nature as a defender both on and off the ball rubbed off on teammates like LaVine and DeRozan to step up their game on that end of the floor. 

Not having Ball in the lineup this season has shown how vital he is to Chicago's offense, as the team is currently 26-33, placing them 11th in the Eastern Conference. That's a far cry from the 46-36 record the Bulls finished with last season, which landed them the No. 6 spot in the East going into the playoffs. In Ball's absence, Chicago hasn't found an adequate starting point guard to replace him, despite the best efforts from Ayo Dosunmu and Caruso. The addition of Goran Dragic in free agency was supposed to help with Ball's absence at the start of the season, but his minutes have continuously declined each month.

In the wake of Ball's absence and the not-so-great fit of all of Chicago's other options at starting point guard, it was reported that the Bulls plan on signing veteran guard Patrick Beverley for the rest of the season. Beverley, who was traded by the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the trade deadline to the Orlando Magic and then waived by the rebuilding team, will add to Chicago's surprisingly solid seventh-ranked defense. 

Though Beverley is no longer the All-Defensive guard he once was, his energy and effort can still help on that end of the floor. In 45 games for the Lakers, all of which he started, Beverley average 6.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists, while shooting 34.8 percent from deep. Those numbers pale in comparison to what Ball brings, but Beverley can help set up the offense for DeRozan and LaVine, and be a defensive pest on the other end. For the time being, that's good enough for a Bulls team that still has a shot at a play-in spot after the All-Star break.

For Ball, the hope is that he'll be able to return fully healthy for the 2023-24 season. If Ball is still experiencing issues with his knee next season, it will be another major blow for the two-way guard's career going forward.