Why Lonzo Ball’s knee surgery is worst-case scenario for Bulls


Why Ball’s knee surgery is worst-case scenario for Bulls originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Even if Ayo Dosunmu’s impressive offseason in which the second-year guard added muscle and moxie translates to a banner sophomore season…

Even if Alex Caruso’s attempt to strengthen his base leads to health and prolonged stretches of his disruptive defense…

Even if Goran Dragić continues to drink from the fountain of youth that fueled his impressive play for Slovenia at the recently concluded EuroBasket tournament…

Even if Coby White finds a regular role that produces his typically steady play when he’s given that opportunity…

Wednesday’s announcement from the Chicago Bulls that Lonzo Ball will undergo his second surgical procedure in eight months on his ailing left knee is worst-case scenario.

Why? The Bulls possess plenty of backcourt depth. Weathering the storm until Ball returns is feasible. The team said he will be re-evaluated in four to six weeks following the Sept. 28 procedure.

But even that most optimistic of scenarios doesn’t address three significant items:

  • Both in standing pat at the February trade deadline — at which point Ball was still expected to return from his first surgical procedure performed in January — and then by working the margins in free agency during the offseason, management touted core continuity as its main goal for improvement.

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Ball missing at least the first portion of the season temporarily derails that goal. And given that he won’t have played since January whenever he does return, his acclimation process will be another step.

Not only did he shoot a career high 42.3 percent from 3-point range on high volume of 7.4 attempts per game during his first season with the Bulls, an easy argument can be made that Ball represents the best two-way player on the roster.

With his ability to push the ball upcourt either via the pass or dribble, Ball possesses a feel for the game offensively that transcends the box score. In DeMar DeRozan’s words last season, he adds a “swagger” to the Bulls’ style.

Defensively, his point-of-attack defense, particularly when paired with Caruso, is disruptive. It also allows the Bulls to more effectively place players like DeRozan and Nikola Vučević into team defensive principles that highlights their strengths and limits their weaknesses.

Ball anticipates plays well, averaged a career-high 1.8 steals in his mere 35 games last season and also is adept at racking up deflections.

This may perhaps be the most significant item given that management aggressively pursued Ball and acquired him in a sign-and-trade transaction to the tune of four years and $80 million. Nobody can question the talent evaluation in projecting Ball’s fit. The Bulls, quite simply, were a different team last season — more exciting, more competitive — when Ball played.

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But availability is a skill. And Ball has never played in more than 63 games in a season.

This also is now Ball’s third procedure on this knee, two of which addressed a torn meniscus. In the official team release, the Bulls said Ball will “undergo an arthroscopic debridement.” That’s essentially a clean-up process addressing cartilage fragments and bits of tissue that can cause discomfort.

When Ball underwent his January procedure to address his torn meniscus, the Bulls placed a six- to eight-week timeline on his return. However, whenever he tried to ramp up his activity, he experienced discomfort. The team eventually shut him down, and Ball said at his end-of-season news conference in April that he vowed to see specialists and attack rehabilitation to be prepared to play 82 games.

Instead, though he did exhibit periods of progress during the offseason, he ultimately kept experiencing discomfort at times where he tried to increase activity. A source said Ball even experimented with changing his gait to address the problem. As recently as mid-August, there was even optimism that Ball would still be ready for training camp and that the strength exercises designed to address the issue would work.

Instead, Ball is headed to another procedure. And the Bulls, who know all about waiting for impactful point guards to return from injury, will begin the 2022-23 season without the core continuity that the franchise desired.

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