Bulls guard Lonzo Ball has begun shooting, but he’s still not running pain-free

Coach Billy Donovan said Ball tried to run on an antigravity machine designed to take weight off the legs and still had to back off when he experienced pain.

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Bulls coach Billy Donovan said injured guard Lonzo Ball is making progress, but isn’t ready to return.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan said injured guard Lonzo Ball is making progress, but isn’t ready to return.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS — Bulls coach Billy Donovan would like nothing more than to provide a positive update on guard Lonzo Ball’s recovery saga.

He would like to relay news that would let his players and the Bulls’ fan base know that Ball’s return is imminent.

Unfortunately for him, however, Donovan found himself telling a very familiar story Sunday. And one that still might not have a happy ending.

‘‘I spoke to him [Saturday] for a while,’’ Donovan said of Ball. ‘‘Again, he feels like he’s progressing. Not that this is new, but I saw him [Saturday]; he was on the floor shooting. I think the biggest thing is, when is he going to get to a place where the pain is such that he can start to run? He’s not at that right now, but I think he’s progressing toward that.’’

When? That remained the big unknown.

Ball hasn’t played in an NBA game since January and has had two surgeries on his left knee since then. After the latest one, which came in September, the Bulls were hoping for a six- to eight-week waiting period before re-evaluating him. Once that window closed, however, concern started to grow.

While the fact that Ball has started shooting is progress, it isn’t running, jumping or cutting. Ball must be comfortable doing all three of those things before the Bulls really can start feeling better about his recovery.

Donovan said Ball tried to run on an AlterG treadmill — an antigravity machine designed to take weight off the legs — and still had to back off when he experienced pain.

‘‘There were still some issues for him,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘When he feels that, they pull back.’’

Donovan said that when Ball can run, jump and cut pain-free, he will go through a lengthy ‘‘ramp-up period’’ because of how long he has been sidelined.

‘‘Just in talking to the medical guys . . . there’s going to be a period, [given] the amount of time he’s been out, he has to get his conditioning back, he’s going to need some contact in practice,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I don’t know what that period is, but it’s certainly not like: ‘Hey, he’s running; next week, he’s playing.’ I don’t think that’s going to happen.’’

Donovan said Ball was still in a good place mentally but was obviously frustrated about how much basketball the knee injury has cost him.

‘‘Just being around him last summer and then being around him in training camp, the one thing that really comes out when you’re around him and speak to him is he’s a student of the game,’’ Donovan said.

‘‘There are some guys where maybe this is a job. He just loves to play. And when you see a guy eager to get back and it’s taken away from him, you feel for him.’’

Late scratch

Forward Javonte Green was scratched Sunday with soreness in his right knee, the same thing that forced him to miss three games at the start of month.

That means Donovan still has been unable to see a larger sample size of the Green, Alex Caruso, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan starting unit he formed after an embarrassing loss last month to the Suns. That group got only one look before Green got hurt.

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