The Chicago Bulls are optimistic after Lonzo Ball’s latest knee procedure, but expectations are still tempered as the point guard continues a nine-month rehabilitation.
Ball underwent an arthroscopic debridement in his left knee Wednesday in Los Angeles to assess and remove the previously unidentified source of lingering pain following a meniscus injury in January.
Coach Billy Donovan spoke with Bulls medical staff Thursday morning who reported the surgery “went well,” but Ball’s road to recovery is still expected to take several months. In the meantime, the Bulls are forced to prepare for the season without their playmaker.
“I’m hopeful that through this (procedure), where he was having discomfort and where he was having pain, that’s gone now,” Donovan said. “I’ll be encouraged when I start to see that but I don’t know when that process will start with him. I’ve got to prepare (without him) because I don’t know when his return date would even be.”
The previous source of Ball’s pain — which plagued him daily, including when he attempted to climb stairs at home — wasn’t visible on MRI scans. Despite a “successful” surgery to address the meniscus injury in January, Ball’s mobility remains severely limited whenever he bends his knee between a 30- and 60-degree angle.
Ball hasn’t run at full speed or played basketball since he suffered the injury nine months ago.
“It’s something that I’ve never dealt with,” Ball said during a news conference Tuesday. “Even the doctors are a little surprised about it. We’re all working together to figure this thing out.’
The Bulls are awaiting further assessment following Ball’s procedure before the guard will be cleared to return to Chicago for the next stage of his recovery. The team previously announced a 4-6 week rehabilitation window following the procedure, but no stage of Ball’s recovery has followed its predicted schedule.
Ball’s extended absence also deepens the team’s uncertainty for his timeline to return to the starting lineup. After nine months without being able to shoot a basketball, it’s unclear how quickly the point guard will be able to snap back into game shape.
“He’s a good team guy and he clearly makes our team better,” Donovan said. “But let’s say the surgery is a complete success and everything’s great and he’s pain free … You’ve still got a player who’s been out for nine months. It’s not like in three weeks, if surgery is successful, you can just throw him back out there and play.”
Timeline of Lonzo Ball’s knee injury
Jan. 14: Ball suffers meniscus tear against the Golden State Warriors.
Jan 20: Bulls announce Ball will undergo surgery and anticipate a six- to eight-week recovery before he can return to the court.
Feb. 21: Ball posts a video on Instagram of himself dancing and playing with his daughter, which falsely appears to signal his increased mobility as he nears the end of the recovery window.
Mar 19: Coach Billy Donovan says Ball’s recovery is at a standstill, complicated by a bone bruise suffered before to the meniscus tear.
Mar 20: Donovan says Ball will stop attempting to run at full-speed for 10 days in an attempt to reduce knee swelling.
April 5: Ball continues to experience discomfort following the 10-day break, but Donovan says the team won’t shut him down.
April 6: The Bulls shut down Ball for the season. Donovan says the Bulls medical staff hasn’t suggested a second surgery.
July 12: Executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas says Ball’s recovery is “not at the speed that we would like” but adds the Bulls hope he will be available for training camp.
Sept. 28: Ball undergoes an arthroscopic debridement in Los Angeles, forcing him to miss training camp and the opening weeks of the season. Bulls set a six- to eight-week recovery window from the procedure, but Donovan cautions his recovery could take longer after 10 months away from the court.