Monday, October 3, 2022

Bulls star unlikely to hit targets this season: report

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The Chicago Bulls’ quiet summer in terms of free agency and trades means they don’t have many questions. We know who the top guys are and for the most part we know the bank rotation, besides who comes in when on any given night.

Your biggest and perhaps only question mark may not have an answer, or at least not one that satisfies anyone.

When is Lonzo Ball returning?

The answer should be 6 to 8 weeks, but we’re well past that schedule and contemplating his absence extending into the regular season. While the Bulls need to clarify who will start in his absence, they might also want to consider what this injury could mean for Ball’s long-term prospects.

NBC Sports Chicago’s KC Johnson writes that Ball’s status is one of the biggest questions facing this team as the season approaches. He reiterates his earlier report that Ball has intermittent pain throughout his rehabilitation. This is the same issue that caused him to put his comeback on hold during the season and remain so until his exit interview.

“Ball has seen specialists to try and get to the bottom of intermittent but persistent discomfort in his left knee,” Johnson said. “He’s rehabilitated. He has rested. And while progress has been made, it has not been linear. Ball’s situation is fluid.”

The only updates from the team were that his knee is “structurally sound” and they “hope” to get him back sooner rather than later.

Johnson adds that the lack of a concrete timeline is because they don’t know when Ball will return.

Well, in an entry for the Times of Northwest Indiana, sports medicine columnist John Doherty disputes their claim.

“Bulls fans should be wondering the same thing about guard Lonzo Ball being a joint taller. Two weeks ago ESPN reported that he is “expected to miss training camp and is in doubt for the start of the regular season due to ongoing pain and discomfort after undergoing meniscus surgery on his left knee in January”.

However, ESPN’s source insisted the knee was “structurally sound.”

Not really. That can not be. A torn piece of meniscus cartilage was repaired – for the second time. So it’s not flawless anymore. The major ligaments may still be intact, but the knee will never be the same.”

Doherty goes on to describe the differences in timelines between a meniscus removal — which Ball’s father, LaVar Ball, says he first insisted on doing in 2018 — and a repair.

The former has a recovery time of around 4 to 6 weeks while the latter takes 4 to 6 months.

“The ball can very well recover to the point where it can play again. But, as is clearly the case with [Dak] Prescott and the Cowboys, Ball and the Bulls should expect intermittent issues to persist as long as he keeps playing.”

The Bulls gave Ball a four-year, $80 million deal in a sign-and-trade that also ultimately cost her a second-round pick.

His impact on this team when healthy is well known.

It would be a shame if the Bulls had to make other contingency plans for the 24-year-old outside of free agent Goran Dragic, veteran Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu in case he never goes 60+ games again. And according to Doherty, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.

“Despite the many medical advances that have recently been made in treating sports injuries, there is still no magic bullet for those who damage articular cartilage. When they do occur, premature degenerative arthritis almost always follows.”

This would almost be a worst-case scenario for the Bulls, who would find it difficult to replace the defense, passing game and three-point shots the ball brings even if they had more time than they have this offseason.

Limited draft capital and tradable contracts mean Doherty’s remote rating must be disabled and Ball must have a full recovery.

As Johnson notes, Ball said he wants to get healthy with a goal of playing in all 82 regular-season games next year. Johnson explains that goal is unlikely and it probably didn’t take that injury to come to that conclusion.

Not only was there only five players to achieve that last season, but Ball has averaged 50.4 appearances over his five-year NBA career.

At this point, Bulls fans will likely only agree on a return date, but this issue just won’t go away.

The Bulls gave Ball a four-year, $80 million deal in a sign-and-trade that also ultimately cost her a second-round pick.



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