Ahead of undergoing an arthroscopic debridement of his left knee this Wednesday, Chicago Bulls point guard Lonzo Ball addressed local reporters over Zoom from Los Angeles.
The updates Ball shared represent another harrowing development in his now eight-month long injury saga.
First, Ball echoed a sentiment shared by executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas on media day: That he did everything they could this offseason to avoid a second operation of the calendar year — and third of his career — on the knee. He spent the summer rehabilitating and visiting outside specialists in tandem with Bulls doctors.
But eight months removed from arthroscopic surgery on Jan. 28, Ball says he is still experiencing pain in the area, even while doing day-to-day activities like walking up stairs, and cannot run or jump.
“Literally, I really can't run. I can't run or jump. There's a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can't, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can't play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”
The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”
Even speaking about that surgery, Ball was vague.
“From my understanding they’re going in there to see what it is because it’s not necessarily showing up on the MRI,” Ball said. “But it’s clear that there’s something there that’s not right. So they’re going to go in, look at it, and whatever needs to be done is going to be done.’’
The enigmatic slant of his symptoms explains why the Bulls tabbed Ball with a four- to six-week re-evaluation timeline from this operation, rather than recovery. His January surgery was initially ascribed a six- to eight-week return timeline, but he ended up missing the Bulls’ final 47 games as his rehab stalled due to discomfort when ramping up his physical activities.
That unevenness persisted in the offseason.
“There was a point where we would warm up and stuff, and I would go through certain days and it would be fine,” he said. “Then whenever I got to real basketball activities, I just couldn’t do it. Unfortunately, this is what’s at hand and has to be dealt with.”
Ball shot down the notion that he or the team improperly rushed his rehabilitation, citing his prior experience tearing a meniscus. But he also emphasized that he will take his time getting right.
“For me, this will be my third surgery, so this time around I really don’t want to rush anything,” he said. “I think, like last time, I wanted to get back to the playoffs and stuff, and I thought — we all thought — that was going to be the case and unfortunately it wasn’t. So this time we need to just take it as slow as we need to take it and come back 100 percent.”
Ball said he will travel back to Chicago and remain embedded with the Bulls as he rehabs. He insisted that the “worst-case scenario” of missing the entire season is “not in [his] mind” and that he is not concerned that the issue could derail the rest of his career.
Still, it's hard to read the decision to once again go under the knife as anything other than a last resort.
"The plan this whole summer was to stay out of the surgery, but at this point this is all that's left," Ball said. "It's something that has to be done. I know I'm going in with the best doctors, so I've got 100% confidence in them and I think I'm going to be back to normal."
Ball's importance to the Bulls' preferred style of play at both ends of the court cannot be overstated. He averaged 13 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals and shot 42.3 percent from 3-point range in 35 games last season, keying a team-wide surge to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
“It's tough,” Ball said. “This is my third time working on this knee. I'm at a point where I just want to get it over with and get healthy and get back to playing. I missed the playoffs last year, I haven't played basketball pretty much all year. For me, I just want to get out there with my teammates and do what I love to do.”
Yet it is as unclear as ever when he will return, casting a shadow over the prospect that the Bulls will build on last season's success.
“Not a specific time frame, no,” Ball said when asked if doctors have given him an idea of a return timeline. “We're going to do the surgery, we're going to take it slow and just go based on how I'm feeling. If all goes well, hopefully it's not too long and I'm back out there playing.”