Focus on front office as Bulls need to get to the point at deadline

Coach Billy Donovan all but ruled out any chance that point guard Lonzo Ball will play this season, so what does that mean for the Bulls right now?

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Bulls point guard Lonzo Ball is unlikely to play at all this season.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan all but ruled out point guard Lonzo Ball playing this season.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Bulls coach Billy Donovan seldom plays semantics.

He tries to answer every question thrown his way with as much honesty and transparency as he can, but he does so in a way that will protect his players and the team’s brand.

So when Donovan was asked last week about the status of injured guard Lonzo Ball (surgically repaired left knee) and whether he might run out of time to play this season, he threw out the All-Star break as a possible deadline in which the Bulls would make it official, 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 isn’t going to play this season without making it official before the Bulls were ready to do.

Expect the Bulls to confirm that sooner than later, and they might show their hand by the trade deadline Thursday.

While it was nice that Ayo Dosunmu matched his season high with 22 points in the Bulls’ victory Thursday against the Hornets, it didn’t cover up the fact that they can use help at point guard, especially late in games.

Is it a high priority? It’s not the only one. But if the Bulls think they have a chance to make a late-season push to climb to the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and get out of the play-in tournament — which is where they sit now — they have to consider making a move. Dosunmu has been inconsistent, and 36-year-old Goran Dragic is at the tail end of his career.

Whether the Bulls address or ignore the position at the deadline also will tell the rest of the league exactly how confident they are in Ball in the long term. If they try to land a player such as the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet and have to use an asset other than Ball to do so, be concerned. That means the Bulls aren’t confident in Ball’s future — and neither is the rest of the league.

If the Bulls stand pat at point guard, then that very well might mean they believe in staying patient with Ball and possibly addressing the position in the offseason, if necessary.

As of Friday, all that was known was that the Bulls’ front office was taking more calls than it was making.

One league executive told the Sun-Times that the Bulls’ asking price on their players remained very high, which goes back to when teams were inquiring about players such as guard Coby White and center Nikola Vucevic last summer. The Sun-Times reported in July that several teams were asking about White but that the price was uncomfortably steep.

Considering the Bulls’ offseason plan was about continuity, it makes sense that executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas would ask for the moon at the time. But that was July. What exactly is the plan now? That’s where things get cloudy.

Very little leaks out of the Advocate Center, but the feeling about the Bulls from one executive is that a complete blow-up isn’t in the cards. Instead, they might try to add draft currency or salary-cap flexibility while still trying to stay competitive. That’s not an easy tightrope to walk in a league that is so all-or-nothing.

The real storyline, however, will be whether the front office will be willing to admit the mistakes it made in building the roster and have the ability to pivot from it.

Karnisovas’ first roster flip was easy because they weren’t his players. This time, however, he not only drew the blueprints for the roster but also picked the land and bought all the material.

A good front office can assess outside talent. A great one can self-scout its own talent and know when things have run their course.

That’s what Karnisovas must determine now.

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