Slow progress is still progress. That has to be the mindset for the Chicago Bulls as they try to navigate what could end up being this entire season without Lonzo Ball. So far, the results have been less than convincing.
The Bulls are 11-18 after falling 150-126 to the Minnesota Timberwolves who were under .500 themselves but got back to an even season with the win over Chicago.
“He loves to play,” said Bulls head coach Billy Donovan of his sorely-missed point guard, per NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls insider K.C. Johnson. “There are some guys where maybe this is a job. He just loves to play. And when you see a guy eager to get back and it’s taken away from him, you feel for him.”
With Ball last season, they looked like one of the best teams in the NBA.
Billy Donovan on Lonzo Ball
Without him — last year as well as so far in this one — they look like a directionless unit lacking a floor general to sort things out and control the pace among several other roster flaws such as poor floor spacing and perimeter defense. Donovan did provide an update on Ball that does suggest there has been some slight progress in the injured point guard’s recovery.
Heavy emphasis on “slight”.
‘‘I spoke to him yesterday for a while,’’ Donovan said per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘Again, he feels like he’s progressing. Not that this is new, but I saw him yesterday; he was on the floor shooting. I think the biggest thing is, when is he going to get to a place where the pain is such that he can start to run? He’s not at that right now, but I think he’s progressing toward that.’’
Ball gave a gut-wrenching account of what his recovery from a torn meniscus and subsequent nerve damage as the result of loose cartilage has been like on media day noting he was having trouble simply walking upstairs.
Since then, his father came out and said that he was doing better following the cleanup surgery he underwent in September.
Every update since then has fluctuated between positive and (mostly) negative.
“We haven’t had anything that’s been like, ‘Oh, geez, we’re back at square one,’ Donovan said. “It’s just slow, unfortunately. It’s just managing the pain and discomfort he’s feeling.”
His timeline being pushed back to February by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was a crushing blow and may have had an impact on the Bulls’ collective psyche but it would be hard to tell the difference.
Bulls Tailspin Without Ball
The Bulls have now lost four games in a row and have just two wins in December despite what was a lighter schedule than they had in November. This month was supposed to be a telling one for their future plans ahead of the trade deadline in February and has certainly shown a lot most of which has been bad.
A front office led by vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas that figures to be around for some time still — Donovan received a “multi-year” extension before the season which would presumable not outlast his boss — has its work cut out for it.
Minnesota’s 150 points were a season-high allowed while the Bulls’ road trip continues against the Miami Heat who have righted their ship lately winning five straight and six of their last seven.
They will also surely remember that 116-108 season-opening loss at home to the Bulls.