Bulls Insider

Ball faces ‘uphill battle' after latest knee surgery


Lonzo Ball underwent his third left knee surgery in 14 months on Monday, according to Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan in his pregame address to reporters in Philadelphia, and now faces an arduous rehabilitation process.

"We all understand that’s going to be an uphill battle for him," Donovan said. "But I know that he’s going to do everything possible in his rehab to get himself back on the court."

Ball underwent a cartilage transplant. Donovan said the Bulls' medical staff relayed to him that the surgery went well. There is no timetable for Ball's return. Donovan termed Ball's absence "indefinite" in his comments to reporters.

Previously, Ball underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in January 2022 and a debridement in September 2022 aimed at cleaning out "loose bodies" and fragments that had been causing Ball discomfort. Ball hasn't played in an NBA game since Jan. 14, 2022.

This surgery is rarely associated with professional athletes, which is why so much speculation exists as to whether Ball can return and salvage his career at a high level. Festus Ezeli underwent cadaver ligament replacement surgery in March 2017 and never played in the NBA again. While Ball's procedure isn't the same, it's similarly rare in the world of professional sports.

That would make Ball's return all the more impressive or surprising, depending on one's perspective.

"I don’t remember if it was in high school or college and Bernard King blew out his ACL and no one had ever come back from that," Donovan said, referencing the former NBA great from the 1970s and 1980s. "You’re just hopeful that maybe (Ball) can be the first. I know he’s going to work really hard. I know that they felt the surgery went well. But I do agree that there’s nothing that’s out there that says, ‘Hey, here’s how guys have come back and been able to respond to this.’ But I do know that Lonzo and the all the information he was able to gather just from different sets of doctors . . . that he felt that this was the best chance to be able to get him back on the court."

Even if Ball someday can, Donovan admitted he's mentally entering 2023-24 training camp as a coach knowing that Ball won't be available. Ball has one season and a player option remaining on his four-year, $80 million contract, so his indefinite absence leaves a glaring hole at point guard while the salary remains on the books.

"I’m sure the front office and ownership will talk at the end of the year about that. He certainly has a long road to recovery and a long road to get himself to a place where he can get himself back on the court and playing again," Donovan said. "But I am hopeful that with his work ethic, his commitment and drive and just how eager he is to play, that’s he’s going to exhaust every opportunity to do that.’’

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