Bulls may have to press pause on the Lonzo Ball knee rehab

While Bulls coach Billy Donovan made sure not to call the recent update on Ball a “setback,” it definitely wasn’t great news, as the starting point guard was stalled in coming back from the left knee injury. Ball hasn’t been ruled out for the rest of the season, but the calendar is definitely working against him.

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PHOENIX — Bulls coach Billy Donovan appeared to choose his words carefully Friday when discussing guard Lonzo Ball’s return from surgery on his left knee. But it didn’t sound optimistic.

“He has not responded,” Donovan said. “There’s no setbacks. It’s still the same thing. . . . We mentioned the other day a couple steps forward. [Then] he goes back. He has not been able to do anything full-speed. And any time we get him close to that, there’s discomfort.”

The Bulls’ medical staff is trying to determine whether it should pause Ball’s rehab so he can “rest for a little bit and see if that helps,” Donovan said.

Ball hasn’t played since Jan. 14, when he was first diagnosed with a bone bruise. An MRI exam showed his meniscus needed to be repaired, so he underwent surgery. The original timetable to return to action was six to eight weeks; this is Week 7.

The problem hasn’t been the repaired meniscus but rather the original bone bruise.

“I think they’re trying to figure out how to ease that to basically take the next step,” Donovan said. “He hasn’t gone backwards. He just has not been able to go forward far enough to do the things he needs to do to be able to play.”

The calendar isn’t on Ball’s side. If the Bulls pause his activity, he still has to return to sprinting and cutting pain-free before he can be cleared for practice. Then he has to find a rhythm and start playing games to ramp up his minutes. The Bulls only have 12 more regular-season games over the next three weeks, so it would be asking a lot for Ball to be even close to 100% by the playoffs.

Donovan was asked if the Bulls might just shut Ball down for the season.

“I haven’t heard that where they said that,” he said. “I think everybody was optimistic he could get back and play. But there’s no question with the current situation with him not being able to do things physically that he needs to do on the court — he’s not even at that place. . . . How long does that take to go from where he is today to there?”

Donovan said he last spoke to Ball before the Bulls left for this trip. He wouldn’t classify Ball as “frustrated” but said he’s obviously not pleased about not playing.

“I think they’re trying to figure it out, but I don’t get the sense he’s frustrated with anything,” Donovan said.

Patrick’s Day?

The news surrounding forward Patrick Williams (left wrist) was much better Friday. Donovan wasn’t ruling out Williams — who has been out since late October — returning as soon as Monday night, when the Bulls host the Raptors.

Williams had practiced with the Windy City Bulls the last few days, and there will be a discussion Saturday on his next step. He could play with the G-League affiliate Sunday if he needs that, then sit out the Raptors game and play at Milwaukee on Tuesday. Or he could just practice with the Bulls on Sunday and play in the back-to-back. 

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