During the first week of Chicago Bulls training camp, coach Billy Donovan said the best approach mentally for his team regarding Lonzo Ball was to prepare as if their starting point guard may not return this season.
At the time, that scenario seemed more unlikely than not. But Donovan's preseason stance may prove prescient.
Ball acknowledged last week in Paris that, while he is making progress, he was experiencing "discomfort and some hitching" as he began running on a treadmill at full speed. On Saturday in Orlando, Donovan told reporters that Ball is "nowhere near playing."
And like Ball with his comments from Paris, Donovan acknowledged that time may be running out to salvage this season. Ball hasn't played since Jan. 14, 2022, undergoing two left knee surgeries in that span.
“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?’’ Donovan said in his pregame address to reporters in Orlando. "I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?’"
Ball reiterated in his recent comments that he remains hopeful to return this season. He also downplayed a question about whether or not he believes this injury is career-threatening.
But Ball's season-long absence has thwarted management's desire to see its plan for roster continuity develop. Ball's impact at both ends over the 35 games he played last season was undeniable.