Rehab updates on Chicago Bulls starting point guard Lonzo Ball are difficult to parse these days.
Since his latest surgery in September — the second on his left knee in 2022 — not much has happened to advance the story. Ball, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan dutifully reports whenever asked, is progressing. But the team has never appeared close to assigning him a timeline to return to game action for the first time since Jan. 14.
Still, Donovan made some noteworthy comments to reporters ahead of Wednesday's road matchup with the Phoenix Suns.
"It’s been really slow," Donovan said when asked about Ball's rehab. "I’m just being honest."
Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process.
But he also noted that Ball is "not even close" to being cleared for contact or on-court work, a harrowing development.
"He’s working through more and more. But it’s not like I can give you any report, ‘Hey, he’s running, he’s cutting, he’s jumping, he’s doing individual skill work, the next step is we’ve got to get him some contact.’ To be honest with you we’re not even close to that," Donovan said.
"Him working through the pain he was experiencing before, there has been improvement in that area, but they’re also trying to continue to build up strength because of the lack of time he’s had, so to speak, training.
"They’re constantly, like, all hands on deck, everyone is evaluating. There’s a lot of people that are involved in trying to help him."
Those people range from the Bulls' medical staff to outside specialists in Los Angeles, where Ball had both of his recent surgeries done. To hear Donovan tell it, all parties involved are in communication daily.
One takeaway from those conversations is that Ball is still experiencing pain.
"He is better after the surgery, I will say that, but is he completely pain-free? No, and that’s what they’re working towards," Donovan said. "Or, at least, if he does have some pain, he’s able to play through some of it, work through some of it.
"All these guys are dealing with pain as the season goes on in some form of it. But for him it’s the pain that has [prevented him from] getting back to playing."
Ball's importance as a defensive anchor, transition playmaker and prolific outside shooter cannot be understated for a Bulls team that has gotten off to a disjointed 9-11 start to the season. Prior to his injury in January of 2022, the team sat atop the Eastern Conference with a 27-13 record.
The Bulls hope that, when or if Ball is able to return, they can rediscover the ceiling they teased during the latter stretch. But discerning when that day might come is as difficult for those close to the situation as it is for observers on the outside.
Donovan was firm answering a question about if the Bulls have a date in mind when, if Ball's progress stagnates, they would shut him down for the season.
"No, I haven’t been a part of any discussions like that at all," Donovan said. "It’s been more about how to get him back on the floor to where he’s playing."
"I feel bad for him because I feel like he’s worked hard to try and get back. He’s a young guy, he’s a really good player, and you hate to see a guy – I guess it’s another month or so, right – that’s coming up on a year (since he last played)? I hurt for him because he’s a great guy, he loves playing, and when something like that is taken away from a guy you feel bad for him."
And so, the waiting game continues.