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One Year Later, Lonzo Ball Is Still In Knee Hell

Lonzo Ball sits on the bench at the Bulls game
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Lonzo Ball's time on court with the Chicago Bulls was brief but brilliant. Freed of a point guard's usual burdens, Ball smoothed out a flawed roster with his defense, passing, and volume three-point shooting. At the start of 2022, the Bulls led the Eastern Conference and had the fifth-ranked offense and 10th-ranked defense in the league. On Jan. 14, 2022, they faced the other conference's top squad, the Warriors. Ball was subbed out late from the ensuing blowout loss with knee pain. It's unclear when exactly he got hurt, but he played through visible discomfort. That was his 35th game with the Bulls, and he hasn't played in one since.

The Bulls announced on Jan. 20, 2022 that Ball had been diagnosed with a bone bruise and small meniscus tear, requiring arthroscopic surgery followed by six to eight weeks of rehab. (He'd previously had arthroscopic surgery for a meniscus tear on that same knee in 2018, the summer after his rookie season.) The surgery took place on Jan. 28. By March 21, the Bulls said that Ball, well into his rehab, was feeling pain, and prevented him from running at full speed for 10 days. Ball resumed rehab after that layoff, but by April 6, he was ruled out for the regular season and playoffs because he was still in pain.

This past July, Bulls VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas provided an injury update on an NBA TV broadcast: "He’s getting better—probably not at the speed that we would like, but he is getting better." In late September, Ball said he felt pain in everyday life and lost strength in his knee whenever it bent between 30 and 60 degrees. He underwent an arthroscopic debridement on Sept. 28 to remove loose tissue, bone, and cartilage, with a recovery period of four to six weeks. By the end of November, Ball still could not run, jump, or cut. On Jan. 13, 2023, nearly one year after his initial injury, Ball posted videos of himself dunking off two feet, hopping on his left leg, and running on a curved treadmill.

Even a Bulls fan who's managed to extract some hope from these videos must acknowledge that he's a long way from appearing in an NBA game. This past Saturday, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan admitted as much, telling reporters that Ball was "nowhere near playing," and that they'd probably rule on his season after the All-Star break. The Bulls are 23-27, 11th in the East; they now take the fewest three-pointers per game of any team.

Ball is 25 years old with a total of 252 regular-season games to his name, and his career is shaping into a tragic arc. He arrived in the league as a No. 2 pick saddled with inaccurate expectations, the hype circus of Lakers pre- and post-LeBron, and a cacophonous father. Chucked for Anthony Davis, Ball moved to New Orleans; despite steady injuries, he rejiggered his jumper and overall role while feeding young Zion Williamson a nutritious diet of dimes. In free agency, Ball found a team with a hole the exact shape of his skillset—only to suffer an injury that nobody seems capable of understanding, let alone fixing.

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