The Chicago Bulls will be forced to make their post-All-Star push toward the postseason without a key contributor. Fourth-year forward Patrick Williams is set to undergo surgery to repair a stress reaction in his foot and will miss the remainder of 2023-24, the team announced on Friday.

Williams last played in Chicago's blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on January 25th. A few days later, the Bulls revealed that Williams was dealing with acute bone adema in his left foot and would be sidelined for at least the next two weeks. Coach Billy Donovan updated Williams' status entering the All-Star break, noting that while his discomfort was gone the best indicator of the 22-year-old's potential return timeline would be how he reacted to increased physical activity.

“The hope is now that once we get into the tail end of the All-Star break that he can actually start doing some more things,” he said of Williams on February 14th, per Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune“That's going to be the real big thing of how did he respond to that. But in terms of his progress of what they've been trying to do in terms of calming the foot down and eliminating some of the discomfort he was having while walking, that's gone. Now the step is, ok, he's starts running, jogging, cutting. What does that look like?”

There was subsequent optimism Williams might be active for Chicago's first post All-Star game against Boston Celtics on Thursday night, but he remained out for the blowout loss, paving the way for Friday's unfortunate news. His season ends averaging 10.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, shooting 44.3% overall and 39.9% on a low volume of three-point attempts—numbers right in ling with career-long norms.

What's next for Patrick Williams, Bulls?

Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams (44) brings the ball up court against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at United Center
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Already absent Zach LaVine for the rest of the reason due to surgery on his balky right foot, Chicago's depth will be tested even further going forward with Williams joining him on the shelf. Williams had re-entered Donovan's starting lineup on January 20th upon LaVine going down again, his defensive versatility looming large at de facto power forward.

Expect Ayo Dosunmu to continue starting in his place. Alex Caruso might be the best perimeter defender in basketball and is comfortable guarding up and down the lineup, while Dosunmu is a clear plus defensively, too. But Williams' season-ending injury leaves Chicago without a physical, athletic big wing to check the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Julius Randle and Paolo Banchero,  a major void as the ninth-place Bulls hope to make noise in the play-in tournament and beyond come April.

As much as ownership and management want fans to believe Chicago really does have something to play for in 2023-24, Williams' surgery means more the organization's big-picture outlook. The Bulls opted against giving the former top-five pick the massive extension he wanted before the regular season tipped off, a prescient decision considering his lack of development before going under the knife.

The breakout campaign so many believe lies within Williams seems less likely than ever to come. His overall efficiency regressed a tick this season and his low three-point rate barely budged, more damning stasis for a young player in a limited offensive role who just hasn't shown the self-creation or playmaking chops to sop up more on-ball opportunities. Williams shot an ugly 38.0% on drives this season, per, and his below-average usage rate barely moved even when he wasn't on the floor with LaVine and DeMar DeRozan.

Williams will be a restricted free agent in July. Dreams of a Jaden McDaniels-like payday vanished long before further testing confirmed he needed surgery. How should both Williams and the Bulls approach his free agency now that stardom seems further away than ever and he's  still yet to make a sizable impact on winning basketball? Would he consider playing next season on a $12.9 million qualifying offer, hoping to prove he's worthy of a big, lengthy contract as an unrestricted free agent in summer 2025?

Williams' season ending prematurely is definitely a shot to Chicago's lofty ambitions of postseason success this spring. Unfortunately for the Bulls, it definitely won't make their already fraught long-term team-building plans any easier, either.