Lonzo Ball showed early on in the 2021-22 season why the Chicago Bulls made it a priority to acquire him last offseason after failing to get him ahead of the 2021 trade deadline. The Bulls were even docked a future second-round pick after a tampering investigation, which came about after Ball’s sign-and-trade was reported immediately as free agency opened.
Ball’s playmaking (especially in transition), 3-point shooting (42.3%) and defense all played a key role in Chicago’s rise to become one of the most fun stories of the first half of the season. As one of the few legitimate two-way players on the roster, and perhaps the only one, Ball was the glue who kept the Bulls together on both ends. While he’s not an All-Star-level player, he’s important connective tissue any good team needs.
So, it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise that the Bulls fell off in a big way in the latter half of the season with Ball sidelined due to a nagging knee problem. In addition to needing surgery to repair a torn meniscus, Ball also had a painful bone bruise.
And, unfortunately, that bone bruise is apparently still a problem.
Chicago was hoping Ball would be able to return at the tail end of the regular season so he could participate in the playoffs. But every time he tried to ramp things up for a return, discomfort remained in the knee because of that bone bruise. The Bulls even tried shutting him down for a brief period and then ramping him up again, but to no avail. They ultimately ruled him out for the rest of the season, so he missed the five-game series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
Ball addressed his knee injury at his exit interview about a month ago and said he was still dealing with knee pain. He even acknowledged another surgery was still possible. Then came a recent report from David Kaplan on ESPN 1000 claiming the knee still isn’t getting better and the organization has concerns.
Lonzo’s dad, LaVar Ball, tried to put those concerns to rest during an interview with Kaplan last week, saying the point guard won’t need another surgery and that he will be ready for the start of the 2022-23 season. While this is good to hear, it’s only fair to continue to worry until the Bulls put forth an official optimistic update on the matter.
Even then, Ball’s lengthy injury history is something to sweat about. He underwent meniscus surgery on the same knee back in 2018 and has never played more than 63 games in a season. While some of that is because of shortened NBA seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21, he has consistently missed time in his career.
Chicago obviously knew this when targeting Ball to be the point guard of the future, ultimately giving him a four-year, $80 million deal as part of the sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. Ball’s impact when on the court shows that was a worthwhile gamble.
But it’s going to be something to watch moving forward, especially as Ball continues to deal with this nagging knee problem. This could have an impact on how the Bulls approach roster-building this offseason, along with Zach LaVine’s free agency. While they have players like Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White who can play point guard, Chicago might look for a veteran option as a backup plan given Ball’s injury woes.
Ultimately, the Bulls made a major investment in Lonzo Ball last summer and need him to come through in order for them to reach their ceiling in the coming years, assuming he’s not traded. His versatile skill set means so much to the roster, so that knee needs to heal up and be ready for 2022-23.