Lonzo Ball

Bulls' Lonzo Ball hits 2-year mark since last NBA game

Dynamic guard is hopeful to return for 2024-25 season after 3 left knee surgeries

Sunday marks two years since the dynamic Lonzo Ball played in an NBA game.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

SAN ANTONIO --- Sunday marks two years since Lonzo Ball played in an NBA game.

The Chicago Bulls sported a 27-13 record in the 40 games Ball utilized his unique and ultimate connecting skills to impact the franchise at both ends. Since that ugly January 2022 loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Bulls are 78-88 in the regular season.

It would be shortsighted to say Ball’s absence is the sole reason for this decline. It also would be shortsighted to say it’s not a significant dent in the vision of Artūras Karnišovas, who first flirted with trading Lauri Markkanen for him in February 2021 before landing Ball in a sign-and-trade acquisition that next offseason.

Ball’s ability to push the pace with hit-ahead passes and speed dribbling plus space the floor offensively with deep and accurate 3-point shooting raised the offensive potential of the trio of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević.

Defensively, Ball paired perfectly with fellow havoc-wreaking guard Alex Caruso, whose positional size, like Ball’s, created potential not only to blow up point-of-attack offense but switch into other schemes.

“The optimistic part wants to believe he’s going to get back because you see his attitude every day,” coach Billy Donovan said on Friday about Ball. “You want it for him.”

Ball has undergone three surgeries on his left knee since January 2022. His latest in March 2023 involved a cartilage transplant.

While a recovery from that seems a tall task, Ball, who has remained relentlessly upbeat about the situation in his public appearances, said at Bulls media day last October that he plans to do exactly that.

“I definitely plan on playing again,” Ball said. “After surgery three, I feel like it’s going well so far, no setbacks. So for me it's just keep my head up, just keep doing the work.

“Rehab has been long. It feels like every day is almost the same. But I'm getting better each week and that's all I can ask for. It feels good to be around the guys. You can feel a new energy in the building, at least coming from my point of view.

“The surgery was a really big surgery. We were all together and came together with a plan moving forward. It's not really a set timeline. But I pretty much have this whole year to get as healthy as possible and be ready to go next season.”

Indeed, the Bulls already have ruled Ball out for this season. Donovan said recently that Ball’s latest procedure has helped Ball be pain-free in normal, day-to-day activities but that he hadn’t started on-court running yet.

Donovan said Ball is expected to begin running this month. Ball also will see his teammates and coaches next week when the Bulls spend four days in Los Angeles, Ball’s main base for rehabilitation.

“The biggest thing we’ve tried to do is make sure he’s in the right hands to go through the rehab and recover and try to get as close to fully healthy as he possibly can,” Donovan said. “At some point when he’s cleared to play and this continues to move in the right direction, he’s going to need some time. I am hopeful and optimistic that he’ll be back with us.

“But let’s say he gets cleared to play in the summertime and it’s not during the season when he can have game activity. Maybe he can play pickup ball, but that’s probably not the same after missing two-and-a-half years of actual play.”

Ball owns a $21.4 million player option for next season that he’ll certainly exercise. Given that insurance is currently paying the bulk of his contract, it’s conceivable that Ball is used as a salary-matching addition to any potential trade the Bulls make before the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

The Bulls’ $10.2 million disabled player exception for Ball expires on March 10. Their payroll currently sits barely below the $165.3 million luxury tax threshold, and they are hard-capped at $172 million. So it’s likely that exception will go unused.

If Ball remains on the Bulls into March and is unable to return next season, the franchise can apply for a provision wherein his player option doesn’t count towards their salary cap or luxury tax figures. But for now, the focus for both Ball and the Bulls is for him to get healthy.

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