Lonzo Ball gives update on rehab process

Lonzo Ball was looking rad — if that’s still a thing — Monday when the Bulls opened their 2023-24 NBA season with Media Day in the Advocate Center. He was definitely drip. C’mon, have some patience. I’m trying to become more relevant here.

And so is the Bulls unlucky point guard, who in his paradoxical world Monday looked the best he has at Media Day interviews in two years at a time his immediate fate finally is known, that he is out and won’t play for the 2023-24 Bulls season.

But hopefully for Ball, the Bulls and good karma everywhere, he will eventually.

And of that Ball says he’s optimistic.

“I definitely plan on playing again,” Ball insisted. “After surgery three (last March), I feel like it’s going well so far; no setbacks. So for me it's just keep my head up, just keep doing the work. I'm feeling pretty good. Probably about halfway through the rehab process. Still got a long ways ahead of me, but each week I've been progressing and I'm just trying to stay positive and take it day by day.

“The surgery (rare cartilage transplant) was a really big surgery,” Ball admitted. “We were all together and came together with a plan moving forward. It's not really I wouldn't say a set timeline. But I pretty much have this whole year to get as healthy as possible and be ready to go next season. So like I said, I'm taking each week just trying to stay positive and take it like that. I know I'll be going back and forth from here and LA just because that's what my rehab person is out there. I'll be with the team sometimes and out there sometimes, but I don't have to set dates yet.”

So will you be sitting here this time next year ready to play for the Bulls?

“Yeah, for sure,” said Ball. “That’s definitely my goal.”

Lonzo Ball hasn’t always been a guy everyone rooted for, but you do now.

His father was this media corrosive, promoting his talented basketball playing sons and more so his own businesses and personality brand. Lonzo was a media star at UCLA and then a sensation in the draft, endorsed by Magic Johnson as the next. But then came a trade and benching and that crooked shot. But then what seemed like a free agency rescue for he and the Bulls, Ball becoming the prized one/two punch free agents along with DeMar DeRozan for new basketball czar Artūras Karnišovas in the summer of 2021.

With Ball firing up a stagnant offense, the Bulls ran to the Eastern Conference lead in January 2022 when it seemed Ball faced a mere setback with what was intimated to be a minor surgical detour.

And nearly two years later...

The Bulls with Ball’s absence recalling the depression of Derrick Rose’s 2012 serious knee injury lost their footing, chased out quickly from the 2022 playoffs and failing to return last spring.

“You’re not going to replace somebody like Lonzo Ball,” Zach LaVine said Monday. “We talked about that for the last couple of years. You take your hat off to Lonzo for him trying to work his way back and doing everything he can to get back on the floor. It’s good to see him here today. Like I said, you have to adjust. Not everything is perfect.”

Ball isn’t coming back this season, so the Bulls signed Milwaukee point guard Jevon Carter. He is slated to compete with Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu for the starting spot, hopefully to keep warm for Ball’s return next year.

Which remains at least an aspiration.

It’s something of an experimental surgery for Ball, and his fourth knee surgery overall. It’s a lot to ask for not only Ball to return to play in the NBA, but to play at the excitingly elusive level that he did. But players like Rose have made inspirational and unexpected comebacks from multiple knee surgeries. So Ball and the Bulls have hope.

And, at least, by looks Monday it was promising.

Ball was firm, direct and confident in his responses to reporters. His hair was closely cropped and his beard nicely trimmed. He looked ready for 48 minutes in his Bulls No. 2 jersey. Norm Van Lier would be proud. 

Ball was only looking forward.

“Everything happens for a reason,” mused the 25-year-old, 6-foot-6 guard who drew comparisons to Jason Kidd. “I couldn't control getting hurt or not getting hurt. It's just something that happened to me, part of my career. I try to stay positive. I don't look at the negatives. I try to think about what I can do to get better and that's how I wake up every day and live. I have a lot of family and friends that have helped me along the way, especially this team right here. So it's not just me fighting this fight.

“Rehab has been long,” Ball admitted. “It feels like every day is almost the same. But, like I said, I'm getting better each week and that's all I can ask for. It’s just gonna depend on how I feel. After that, I can get a sense of what I can and can’t do and then I’ll go from there. I just miss playing. It’s a big part of my life that’s gone. I mean, I've been playing organized hoops since I was six. So to be out these last two years, that's been the toughest part, just not being able to physically get on the court and put the jersey on and go to battle.”

No, it’s not the money, stupid, to paraphrase an old political dictum.

Ball has and continues to make a lot of money from the Bulls. But he already had made a lot of money. Money never can replace love. We’ve heard plenty the promises from many that if they had that money… But you still need something to do. And when that special something is taken away, no amount of cars, houses and exotic trips replaces that.

The Bulls have suffered because of the absence Ball. He seemed to fit ideally with the way coach Billy Donovan wanted to play and how LaVine and DeMar DeRozan do play. He gave the Bulls a style and a joie de vivre that they’ve been unable to duplicate. The Bulls added some players this summer to help, but as with Rose there is no replacement when you were playing the kind of ball the Bulls were. But the Bulls move on. Ball doesn’t get to.

“It feels good to be around the guys,” Ball said. “I’m still a part of the team. I'm an open book and I'm here to help in any way I can. If it's taking guys one on one or talking in front of the team, I can do any of it. You can feel a new energy in the building, at least coming from my point of view. I'm excited. What excites me most? The future. For me, it's just about moving up and just keep going forward. I think that we could do a lot of special things this year.”

Even if it’s not as special as a Lonzo Ball return to good health and basketball, it still would be a successful season. One can only hope.

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