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Bulls hoping Lonzo Ball will be back in 2023, but nobody really knows when he’ll be ready

Billy Donovan claims surgery “went well”

2022 NBA Playoffs - Chicago Bulls v Milwaukee Bucks

Lonzo Ball spoke to reporters earlier this week before undergoing another knee surgery on Wednesday, painting a bleak picture of his failed knee rehab. Ball said he still couldn’t run or jump and was dealing with pain doing everyday activities such as walking up stairs. He even admitted doctors were flummoxed by what was going on with his knee and that Wednesday’s knee debridement procedure would hopefully figure things out.

Thursday morning brought an update from Shams on Ball’s surgery, claiming “confidence” in Ball’s ability to return at some point in the 2022-23 season. Per this report, “doctors believe” the mysterious knee issue was addressed. This came with the caveat that Ball would still be expected to be out “at least a few months.” He then added in a follow-up tweet that “both sides are expected to monitor the response over the next two weeks, and a return to play based upon Ball’s rehab process.”

K.C. Johnson soon followed up confirming “optimism” from the Bulls that the surgery addressed this nagging knee problem. However, K.C. dumped a small cold bucket of water by adding the Bulls also thought his January meniscus procedure addressed the problem:

Later in the day, Shams said the Bulls are “bracing” for Ball to not be ready until 2023, but having him for the second half of the season is an “increasing goal” for the team:

The Bulls have still not yet put out an official statement on the surgery, with their last announcement before the surgery claiming 4-6 weeks before a reevaluation. Head coach Billy Donovan did address the matter on Thursday, though. According to ESPN’s Jamal Collier, Donovan spoke with director of athletic performance Chip Schaefer and got word the surgery “went well” and Ball’s spirits are high.

That’s all well and good, but Donovan also acknowledged nobody knows how Ball’s knee will actually react to the rehab process:

“You always try to stay optimistic that this will get resolved and he’ll be fine,” Donovan said after practice Thursday. “But until he gets back and gets into the situations that were causing him pain, to see how he responds in being back in those situations, we’ll find out more. I don’t know how long it will take before he can actually start the rehab process.”

“You’ve also got a player that’s been out for nine months,” Donovan said. “It’s not like in three weeks, the surgery is a success, you can just throw him back out there and play.

“We haven’t even gotten to the point if this all goes well with the rhythm, timing, the flow, catching up. He’s had no competitive play since [January]. So that’s a whole other scenario of when he could actually get back.”

On one hand, it’s nice to hear optimism that this surgery allegedly fixed Ball’s knee issues. The flip side was a definitively lost season and speculation about long-term problems that would not only affect his career but the rest of his life. These updates would appear to be a step in the right direction, which we haven’t had in a while.

But as Donovan warns, it’s impossible to predict when Ball will actually be back out on the floor. And from there, when will he be back to his usual self again?

Sadly, Bulls fans have plenty of experience dealing with this type of thing. The best thing to do is set no real expectations for when Ball will be back and then just hope for the best. If the Bulls can get anything positive from their point guard in 2022-23, that should be viewed as a win. This situation might be the first time I’d be happy to hear “this is just like a trade acquisition.”