Bulls guard Lonzo Ball could be headed for another left knee surgery

Bulls point guard Lonzo Ball could be headed for a third surgery on his left knee.

Marta Lavandier/AP

DENVER – Lonzo Ball’s left knee surgery was never a threat to his career – at least in his mind.

“Nah, I don’t have any concern,’’ Ball said back in January, when asked if he was worried about his time playing in the NBA being cut short. “I just think it’s time-consuming. I’m only 25, so I’m not too worried about it.’’

It might be time to at least start worrying.

A Bulls source confirmed a report on Thursday that Ball could be headed for a third left knee surgery since he joined the organization – fourth overall surgery on the knee in his career – but did stress that they “weren’t there just yet.’’

Ball has been in Los Angeles since the Bulls officially shut down his 2022-23 season last month, seeing specialists as they try and pinpoint exactly why the first two surgeries did not work.

He initially had the left meniscus repaired in January 2022, and the hope was to have Ball back just before last season’s playoff run. That didn’t happen.

Ball spent the summer trying to ramp up his activity, and while he was able to run and shoot for a bit, it would hit a roadblock of discomfort.

That led to the September surgery in which debris was removed.

The concern coming out of that surgery was nerve damage in the knee, but the hope was it would heal and he would get through it.

Again, that wasn’t the case.

The straight-ahead running eventually was fine, but when the rehab called for that to be ramped up, Ball would again experience pain in the knee and have to be pulled back. He never even reached the point where he was cutting laterally.

If Ball does have to now have a third surgery, it could be up to another six months before he would resume full basketball activity. Best case scenario would be having him ready by October or November, but that would be if everything went perfectly.

Even if Ball was to return at some point next season, he would very likely be on a very strict load management program, making a full return very difficult.

“I feel bad for him because nobody’s taking it more hard than him,’’ teammate Zach LaVine said of Ball recently. “This is his career. This is him that’s having to deal with this injury and having people put out reports and talk about him when he really hasn’t said a lot, that’s hard to deal with.’’

Where it could get even more difficult is the financial aspect of it.

Ball still has two more years left on his Bulls deal, set to make $20.4 million next season and then $21.4 in his final season. That final year of the deal, however, is a player option. So even if Ball does eventually get back at some point in the 2023-24 campaign and plays well, he could always opt out and leave the Bulls with a very small sample size of what could have been.

What the Bulls were before Ball was injured was a 27-13 team, sitting atop the Eastern Conference at the time. He gave them 13 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game, but shot 42.3% from three-point range, pushed the pace on the offensive end, and was an elite defender in causing disruption for the opposing backcourt.

Those are holes the Bulls are still trying to fill.

“I always think about the person first more than that,’’ LaVine said of life without Ball. “He’s such a hard worker I talked to him all the time. He’ll be back. It’s unfortunate he had to go through this. Injuries are obviously a part of basketball but this just sucks, because that’s my guy.’’

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