Bulls’ Billy Donovan Confirms Next Steps for Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball, Chicago Bulls

Getty Lonzo Ball #2 of the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls haven’t had Lonzo Ball on the court since January 14, 2022.

It was in that game that he aggravated the knee soreness that he had been playing through. His teammate, Zach LaVine, also suffered a knee injury that required surgery in that game. But he eventually returned to the court that season.

The Bulls got a $10.2 million trade exception from the NBA due to his season-ending injury. They could apply to have the remainder of his four-year, $80 million contract wiped off the books. But the league would have to rule that his injury is career-ending.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan offered an encouraging update suggesting an upward trend.

“Billy Donovan said Lonzo Ball was in town last week and his optimism for a return remains intact,” said NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson in a post on on X, formerly Twitter, on December 28. “Donovan said ‘hopefully in January he’ll start running.’ The Bulls have ruled Ball out for this season and January will mark two years since his last NBA game.”

As encouraging as that is, the outlook apparently gets even better for the former No. 2 overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Everything they’ve done in terms of progressing him he’s handled very well,” Donovan said, per Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune on December 28. “The pain that he was experiencing that was causing the setback I think has been eliminated in terms of what he’s doing now.”

Ball spoke about difficulty walking up a flight of stairs ahead of the end of last season. He was already several months removed from the meniscus injury and had undergone surgery.

Lonzo Ball Trying to Make Rare Comeback

Ball underwent a cartilage transplant in March. It was his third procedure on the knee in 14 months since the initial injury. The initial surgery resulted in a bone bruise and some nerve issues.

He is far from a lock to return given the rarity of the surgery leading to full recoveries in athletes.

“[Ball] has to be realistic with himself and what he’s going to be able to do,” former NBA star Brandon Roy said, per Joshua M. Hicks of The Bigs on May 16 at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “It might not be at the level of an All-Star point guard but there are some things he can adjust to his game and he can still help a team.”

Roy underwent an arthroscopic procedure in 2011 after a series of knee issues. He retired after five promising NBA seasons as a result. He attempted to make a comeback in 2012. But knee issues cut that short after five games.

The three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA selection would retire for good before the calendar turned that season.

Ball’s offensive game isn’t predicated on explosive athleticism. But his defense could suffer.

“He should start putting his attention and efforts into things that are going to maximize his mind and not his body,” Roy told Hicks. “As hard as it may seem, continue to try to be patient and don’t feel rushed…[Ball] is a young kid and he has a lifetime ahead to think about what he wants to do next or move on. Be selfish and try to get yourself back to playing basketball.”

Bulls’ Lonzo Ball Stood on Recovery Progress

Ball has been consistent in his optimism about a return. And he has pushed back against claims that his rehab was going anything other than positively. He engaged in a brief back-and-forth with ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith, who claimed Ball couldn’t stand or sit without pain.

Smith doubled down on his stance, though, and perhaps this announcement does little to alter it at this point.

It’s a positive development for Ball and the Bulls nonetheless.