The foundation for the Chicago Bulls could very well be crumbling beneath their feet even as the team has shown signs of at least finding a workable level of consistency. Their roster – woefully devoid of two-way talent – is also largely what they plan to roll with by all accounts awaiting the return of their lynchpin, Lonzo Ball.
Unfortunately, every update for Ball is either one step forward or two steps back and the most recent certainly falls under the latter category.
Ball has been sidelined for over a year, first with a torn meniscus that required surgery.
He underwent a second procedure for the pain in September after having his rehab stunted every time he tried to ramp up. While the procedure – an arthroscopic debridement – was supposed to alleviate the discomfort, that still has not happened.
Bulls ‘Perplexed’ By Lonzo Ball Knee Pain
“I don’t think they’re lying about it,” said Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times during an appearance on ‘Bernstein & Holmes’ on 670 The Score in Chicago on January 31. “I think they are perplexed basically as Lonzo is…And there’s a lot of confusion. Is there a nerve in there that’s damaged? Is it long-term? Is it a situation where he’s…just exercising that right that he has to make sure that there is no setbacks with it.”
Ball’s father said during an appearance on the ‘Ball Facts’ podcast that his son experienced some issues with the nerves in his knee following the January surgery.
Cowley notes the consistent messaging from the Bulls and Ball that this is nothing they consider to be career-threatening or even altering to this point. He also thinks they are beyond the point where Ball’s return seems feasible.
Ball has made notable strides in recent weeks even posting videos of himself running on a treadmill (albeit with a noticeable hitch in his stride which he acknowledged), and even dunking a basketball. But he has said that he doesn’t want to rush back after what is his third surgery in total on the knee since he entered the NBA.
“It’s bad because this is a guy that has never been healthy a full season but he plays. And when he plays, he is an impactful player. He has become a difference-maker just because he is your best two-way player. So this is major. This is a big blow to what their plans were and this is the reason they’re kind of stuck right now, kind of in no man’s land.”
Bulls Plans Fall Apart Without Ball
“Look, this thing was built specifically – get [Nikola Vucevic], Vooch and Zach will then bring attention. It did. DeMar was not going to come here unless it wasn’t Vooch and Zach. Okay. Then Lonzo, Lonzo was not going to come here unless it was Vooch, DeMar, Zach. So the dominoes all fell perfectly for them.”
Just as those dominoes fell in place for the Bulls to assemble this group, things are coming undone with the final piece at the top.
“It’s not like they are hiding something from us. They don’t know. Lonzo doesn’t know, his camp doesn’t know, medical doesn’t know…I’ve heard he’s had third, fourth, fifth, sixth opinions. That they are scouring to find something that makes sense or something that timetables it. So, yeah, that’s not good. I mean, I don’t want to say Brandon Roy here. But, I mean, it’s got the early feeling of Brandon Roy. He attempted to come back and went right back down and a great career, a promising career was ruined. You hope that’s not the case because they did put so much stock in.”
Roy was the sixth-overall pick in 2006 winning rookie of the year, becoming a three-time All-Star, and earning a pair of All-NBA nods. His career was interrupted and ultimately cut short due to microfractures in his knee after just six seasons.
Lonzo Ball’s Fate May Be Sealed This Season
Ball is not there yet but has acknowledged that he would eventually run out of runway to make his return this season, though he was still holding out hope.
To that end, Cowley says he does not see it happening. Head coach Billy Donovan has noted Ball’s progress but also has insisted that he has been operating under the assumption Ball would not return since training camp.
Perhaps that means their next biggest concern is the similar injury afflicting Javonte Green.