The chances of seeing Lonzo Ball play in an NBA game anytime soon just keep growing slimmer. The Bulls guard last played on Jan. 14, 2022 after suffering a right knee injury. He's since suffered several setbacks in his recovery process, and could need to have a third surgery on the same knee, per Adrian Wojnarowski. Ball first had arthroscopic surgery in January 2022 to address what at the time was called a small meniscus tear. Despite the hope that Ball would return last season, he didn't and instead had a second surgery on the same knee eight months later in September.
He was expected to be out a few months, with a potential return set for January 2023, but that time came and went and the updates given by the Chicago Bulls about Ball's status suggested that he was nowhere near a return. That prompted the team to , with a focus toward the 2023-24 season as a return. However, if Ball has another knee surgery, he could be sidelined for six months, per Wojnarowski.
No official decision has been made yet about Ball getting the surgery, but Wojnarowski reports that the Bulls and the point guard's representatives at Klutch Sports are talking to several specialists about the best path forward. However, the longer they wait in making a decision, the further out Ball's return would be for next season.
When the former No. 2 overall pick was healthy last season, Chicago was one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Ball was a table setter on offense for the Bulls, while also being one of the most reliable 3-point shooters on the team. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine benefited from having Ball set them up with his passes, and when those two were feeling defensive pressure Ball would always be lurking ready to knock down a triple. But where he really shined was on defense, where he formed a formidable duo with Alex Caruso in the backcourt.
With Ball on the floor, Chicago allowed 8.6 points fewer per possession compared to when he was on the bench. That point differential ranked in the 96th percentile last season before the injury, and once he was out the Bulls defense slipped significantly.
This season the Bulls have felt the effects of Ball's absence tenfold. Chicago sits 11th in the East with a 30-36 record, and after making the playoffs a year ago for the first time in five years, this season has been an utter disappointment. In Ball's absence the Bulls have also struggled to find an adequate replacement for him. Ayo Dosunmu and Caruso have given it their best shot, but neither can replicate the production Ball brings. The addition of Goran Dragic as a free agent didn't pan out well, and he was waived by the Bulls after the trade deadline. Chicago most recently brought in Patrick Beverley, and while he gives the Bulls some defensive intensity, he's not on the same level as Ball was on offense.
With the rest of this season feeling like a loss, even if the Bulls do manage to squeak into the play-in round, the focus should be on ensuring Ball can be fully healthy to make a return early next season. We have yet to see what a full season of this core together, and Bulls president Arturas Karnisovas has said on multiple occasions that he wants to see what this team looks like healthy before making any major roster decisions. However, if Ball struggles to get back on the court next season as well, Chicago may not have time to wait around for his return and it could be too late to move on some of their most valuable assets.