Lonzo Ball injured his left knee in January and proceeded to miss the rest of the 2021-22 Chicago Bulls season. The diagnosis was a torn meniscus, and Ball had surgery on January 28th, with an initial prognosis of six to eight weeks for a return. Then in rehab it was revealed he also suffered a bone bruise in that knee, and due to that setbacks, the team and Ball agreed to shut him down for the rest of the year.
Lonzo is obviously a key member of Chicago’s core, supplying a lot of the perimeter defense, transition offense, and three point volume. So his health may be the biggest storyline of the offseason. Unfortunately, so far the answers/statements given by the front office and coaching staff haven’t been the most encouraging.
On draft night, this is what GM Marc Eversley had to say when asked about Ball’s progress towards coming back:
There's still uncertainly with Lonzo Ball's knee.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) June 24, 2022
Asked if Ball would be playing in regular-season games right now if season was going on, Marc Eversley defers to training staff.
"I certainly hope" he'll be a full participant in training camp next fall, Eversley adds.
Then with the organization attending Summer League this month in Vegas, Billy Donovan was on ESPN and had this to say about Lonzo’s knee:
Billy Donovan, speaking on the ESPN2 broadcast, said Lonzo Ball is making "steady progress" in his rehabilitation from the bone bruise that predated his left meniscus surgery. Did acknowledge everyone wishes the progress was "faster." Ball didn't play again after January.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) July 10, 2022
During yesterday’s game, the head of the basketball organization Arturas Karnisovas also spoke during the telecast:
Artūras Karnišovas, speaking on NBA-TV during the Bulls-Raptors broadcast, said Lonzo Ball is "progressing" but probably "not at the speed that we would like." Said the Bulls "hope" he's ready for training camp.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) July 12, 2022
All three answers follow the same pattern in that it starts off with them saying he’s coming along well in his rehab, but then giving a bit of a worrying sentence in terms of when/if he actually will be healed in time for next season’s start.
Then there’s this worrisome report from K.C. Johnson in his latest piece for NBC Sports Chicago today:
Multiple sources told NBC Sports Chicago that Ball’s current workout regimen has featured similar starts and stops. In other words, Ball still occasionally experiences discomfort when he increases his workload.
That does not sound like good news at all as this was the very problem Ball faced at the end of last season when he tried to come back.
Another factor is Lonzo’s history with injury, many times with that same left leg. He missed most of the 2018 season with the same surgery (torn left meniscus). He was out longer than expected in 2019 after a left ankle sprain. In 2021 he missed over a dozen games with knee soreness and a hip flexor strain.
There’s no need to go into just how valuable Ball is to the Bulls and what a huge loss even a delayed return would mean. We saw how they performed without him in the second half of last season.
The Bulls have not done much to help mitigate this potential loss. They signed 36-year-old Goran Dragic to the minimum, and just recently he revealed to his native Slovenian media that part of his reason to join the Bulls (it was widely expected he’d join Luka Doncic in Dallas) was a guarantee in playing time.
That Dragic signing was somewhat odd because the team had a lot of combo guards already. Maybe it’s another indication that the Bulls are preparing with life without Lonzo, which would be a huge problem heading into this season.