According to Billy Donovan, Lonzo Ball's recent arthroscopic debridement of his left knee "went well" and Ball remains in upbeat spirits.
It's a sentiment that aligns with NBC Sports Chicago reporting Thursday morning that there is internal optimism that the surgery addressed Ball's persistent knee pain.
That's the good news.
But as the Chicago Bulls head coach detailed at length to reporters that attended the team's Thursday training camp practice, that is one small step in Ball's long road to a return — the timeline for which remains unclear.
"You always try to stay optimistic that this will get resolved and he'll be fine," Donovan said, citing a collaborative effort between the Bulls, who were represented by Director of Performance Health Chip Schaefer in Los Angeles, and Ball's medical staffs.
"But until he gets back and gets into the situations that were causing him pain, to see how he responds to being back in those situations, we'll find out more."
That's a nod to the root of Ball's now eight-month long injury saga. On Jan. 28, Ball underwent arthroscopic surgery to address a meniscus tear in his left knee, at the time his second operation on that knee of his NBA career. The Bulls initially ascribed him a six- to eight-week recovery timeline, but he has been sidelined ever since, derailed by pain in the knee each time he attempted to ramp his rehabilitation up to full-speed basketball activities.
Another surgery, according to Ball and executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas on media day, was something of a last resort. Ball told reporters in a recent Zoom conference that, eight months removed from the initial operation, he still cannot run, jump, or even walk up stairs without pain. This debridement, he said, was intended to find and address the issue plaguing him, which he said is unlike anything he has ever experienced and has even confounded examining doctors.
The Bulls and Ball hope that this operation has done just that. The next step is getting him back to Chicago and developing a rehabilitation plan.
But that is just the beginning.
"What I don't know is, let's say the surgery is a complete success, everything's great, he's pain-free. You've also got a player that's been out for nine months," Donovan said. "It's not like in three weeks the surgery is a success and you just throw him out there and play. We haven't even gotten into the point if this all goes well, what the rhythm, the timing, the flow, catching up. He's had no competitive play since [January]. So that's a whole other scenario of when he could actually get back.
"And maybe he's in a situation, if it all goes well, that he's back on the floor. But the next part could be, I don't know how long it takes, if he does get back on the floor and when he gets back on the floor, how long that takes before he's comfortable, doctors are comfortable, putting him in a competitive situation. And how long does that take for him to get his timing back. So those are really the unknowns.
"The biggest thing for me right now is I'm hopeful that, through this, OK, where is (he) having discomfort, where is (he) having pain. It's gone. OK, let's take the next step, the next step. I'll be encouraged when I start to see that. But I don't know when that process will start with him. So to me it's like two parts. It's like, getting here (to rehab in Chicago), when do the doctors say that he can actually start doing some things, where is his comfort at, all that goes well, now how long does it take for him to get back to playing. I don't know that yet."
This time around, the Bulls have published a four- to six-week re-evaluation timeline for Ball's progress post-surgery, meaning his next checkpoint will come at the latest, in late October or early November. Until there is more clarity on a return date, Donovan reiterated that he, his coaching staff and his players, must prepare as if Ball is out indefinitely.
As long as he is, the Bulls will be burdened with the impossible task of compensating for the absence of their starting point guard's unique blend of perimeter defense, outside shooting and pace-pushing tendency — each of which were so instrumental to the team's rise to the top of the Eastern Conference in the opening months of the 2021-22 season.
The hope is that this latest positive update is eventually looked back upon as the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel. Time will tell.