CHICAGO — Just shy of the one-year anniversary of his last NBA game, Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball posted a video of himself dunking to his Instagram account, a sign of the small improvement he said he has experienced recently in the recovery of his left knee.
“Those are things that maybe six weeks ago he couldn’t do,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said before Friday’s game against the Thunder. “As much as they’re little steps, it’s still progress that he’s continuing to make.”
However, Donovan did temper expectations about Ball’s progress, noting the point guard, who has not played in a game since Jan. 14, 2022, is still experiencing discomfort in his knee when doing basketball activity.
“Is there pain there? Yes, there’s still some discomfort there,” Donovan said. “But not at the level it was six weeks ago.
“I’m not trying to say what Lonzo’s pain is. But the question is does he have pain? Yes. Is it the same pain he was dealing with six weeks ago? No. How much better is it? It’s good enough that he can get on a treadmill and do some running and he can go jump and go dunk the ball.”
Ball told reporters at a team charity event last month that he is seeing some improvement in his surgically repaired knee, encouraging his most signs of progress following a pair of arthroscopic knee surgeries last January and before the start of training camp in September.
Even if Ball’s knee does start to make rapid improvement, he still has not played basketball in a year. Donovan said Ball would need “a significant ramp-up period” to increase his stamina and conditioning before he would be ready to return to the floor.
“When you’re out a year, whenever he gets back to playing, I don’t think missing that much time is going to expect him to pick up right where he left off. There’s going to be an adjustment period, there’s no question ,” Donovan said.
“There’s certainly going to be a period of time before they ever allow him back to play that they feel comfortable that he can endure what an NBA schedule looks like.”
The Bulls entered Friday’s game 19-23 and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Donovan did not believe Ball’s uncertain injury status would impact the team’s actions at the upcoming Feb. 9 trade deadline, but he did reiterate the need for the team to get healthy.
Chicago was without All Star DeMar DeRozan for the second straight game on Friday as he recovers from a quad injury. DeRozan did some shooting drills at shootaround earlier in the day, and while Donovan said the team doesn’t think his injury is anything serious, the Bulls wanted to exercise caution. The team is also missing forward Javonte Greenwho will be reevaluated in two weeks following knee surgery earlier this week.
There is still no timetable for Ball’s return and the Bulls are operating with “no guarantees” Ball plays this season, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski last month. Ball, 25, appeared in 35 games in his first season in Chicago, averaging 13 points, five rebounds and five assists while shooting 43% from 3 to go along with elite defense.
The Bulls have struggled to replicate his production in the year following his absence, going 38-46 overall since Ball’s last game.
“He’s a huge part of our team,” guard Zach LaVine said at shootaround Friday morning. “He does a lot offensively and defensively and I think his impact is shown. It’s hard to replace anybody on your team, but a guy like that, you know you’re not going to replace.
“He’s just working. Injuries suck and I think he takes it harder than anybody because it’s his career, his game. He’s the one that’s having to put in the work every day. Just keeping him level-headed and trust the work he’s putting in . He’s going to get back eventually, but there’s not a point in rushing it now. Just making sure he’s feeling good.”