Bulls coach Billy Donovan staying optimistic about a Lonzo Ball return

Donovan knows that Ball will have a long and tough rehab process after this third surgery since joining the Bulls, but his hope is that all the hard work he’s gone through and setbacks he’s faced will lead to some good things.

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Lonzo Ball

Bulls coach Billy Donovan is trying to remain optimistic about a return for point guard Lonzo Ball after what will be his third left knee surgery in the last 14 months.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

I

f the Bulls haven’t already had the discussion, then they need to have it soon: Has guard Lonzo Ball played his last game with the team?

Coach Billy Donovan wasn’t there yet Friday when asked about the possibility that Ball — who will undergo a cartilage transplant, his third surgery on his left knee in 14 months — may have suited up for the last time in a January 2022 loss to the Warriors, the game in which he was initially hurt.

“I do feel optimistic because I see him and his desire to want to come back, so if there’s an opportunity for him to come back, I believe because of his willingness to work to get himself back, he’ll get there,” Donovan said.

As is the case with most NBA coaches and their point guards, there’s a special bond between Donovan and Ball, whom Donovan trusted to pace the Bulls offensively and run the backcourt defense. Even with Ball sidelined, the two speak frequently, forcing Donovan to try to separate the business side of the injury from the human side.

“I’m saddened,” he said. “From a team perspective, from a coaching standpoint, he’s a really good player, and you love to have him out there. But to me, when you’re around him as much as we’ve been around him and the team has been around him, the fact that the game has been taken from him and he can’t play, you just feel terrible for him because he loves the game. He loves playing.

“You see everything he has done since this has happened to try and get himself back on the court, and you always want to see a guy get rewarded by putting in the work he’s put in to get back.”

Unfortunately, this story might not end that way. Even if the surgery goes well, Ball’s recovery looks to be long, and there’s a good chance he would miss most or all of next season. That could add up to as much as 2 ½ years of no organized basketball.

“The biggest thing we can do is support him and be there for him,” Donovan said, “because he’s been through a lot, and he’s handled himself incredibly well for someone that’s had really half of last year and all of this year taken away. And then, the upcoming surgery, him being out indefinitely, what that looks like. He’s been through a lot mentally.

“Even though he comes in and he’s around the team for a period of time, there is a lot of time that he’s away from everybody. Just having to come to grips of not playing is really, really hard for him to absorb, but he handles himself incredibly well.”

Green day

There was some good knee-related news Friday. Donovan said Javonte Green (right knee) went through a full-contact practice with the Windy City Bulls, wrapping up a positive week of work. Green last played on Dec. 31, shut down because of soreness in the knee. When rehab wasn’t helping, he opted for a clean-up surgery.

The recovery wasn’t going great until recently, as Green was having trouble cutting and moving laterally. The hope is he has turned a corner and could be back within the next week if there are no setbacks.

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