Bulls

Ball’s Vital Return Could Unleash Sputtering Bulls

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It’s unusual that one player’s return can turn a team from a middling frustration to a Finals contender.

But thankfully for Chicago, Lonzo Ball is no ordinary talent.

Ball hasn’t played an NBA game since 1/14/22. For that reason, many “experts” have the Bulls fighting for a spot in the play-in tournament. Ball’s skillset adds a dimension to the team that no other player on the roster possesses.

The team has a shortage of players that excel at both ends of the court, as most Bulls are defensive liabilities or are inept on offense. Not only was Ball a true two-way player, but he was also the best playmaker on the team.

His absence was a massive loss in 2021-22. In 2022-23, are the Bulls doomed if he can’t suit up?

THE FIRST SIGNS OF TROUBLE

Ball’s knee has been a mystery to the fans, media and front office. The knee issues also bewildered Ball.

It all started when he was held out of the January 15th contest against the Boston Celtics with knee soreness. What followed was a series of inaccurate health updates that either provided hope or despair to the fan base.

Initially, Ball had a six-to-eight-week timetable to return following arthroscopic knee surgery due to a small meniscus tear and a bone bruise. However, Ball reportedly still had knee discomfort after eight weeks of rehab, and the team pulled back. That report ended any hope that he could return in time for the first-round match-up against the Milwaukee Bucks.

After the season, while Chicago contemplated its playoff gameplan, the team held exit interviews. Ball admitted that his rehab was going nowhere, creating an overcast of darkness above the team.

INTO THE OFFSEASON

As the calendar turned, the news about Ball didn’t improve. The infamous LaVar Ball suggested the Bulls weren’t rehabbing his son correctly and that the team pushed him too hard too soon after surgery.

Uncertainty and false promises that Lonzo would be ready for training camp followed. During an interview at the 2022 NBA Draft, Bulls General Manager Marc Eversley stated that all reports of Lonzo’s rehab were “good” but used the word “hope” when describing his chances of returning for camp. In another interview at Summer League, Bulls President Artūras Karnišovas stated that while Ball’s knee was improving, it was not where the team wanted it to be.

A RAY OF OPTIMISM

The strange twists and turns in the adventures of Ball’s knee hit its lowest point when the Bulls announced on 9/21/22 that he would need to have another knee surgery and would be re-evaluated in another four-to-six weeks.

If there was any good news, at least the timetable wasn’t the six-to-eight weeks Bulls fans had habituated to.

On 9/29/22, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that there was “confidence” that the most recent surgery addressed the knee issue and that Ball may return after a few months. If Ball is able to return prior to the all-star break, it may change the entire complexion of the Bulls’ season.

HAVING A BALL

Simply put, the Bulls are a better team with Ball on the floor. No, he isn’t Giannis, Steph, or any other MVP-caliber player. He may not even be an all-star. However, Lonzo has a unique skill set that played a major role in the Bulls’ record prior to his injury.

On a team full of one-dimensional players, Ball is a darn-good two-way threat. It’s the reason “experts” will continue to count the Bulls out until they see him back on the court.

The Bulls face a battle as long as Ball is off the court. The team will be offensively capable but will struggle defensively without Ball. With him, the Bulls’ perimeter defense is extraordinary, and their ceiling as a team is higher.

Hopefully, fans will get to see the Bulls continue last season’s feel-good story with Ball in tow.

About Legacy Hughes-Martin

Legacy Hughes-Martin is a regular contributor at The Lead Sports Media. Connect with him about freelance writing, sports (NBA/NFL), anime and professional wrestling on Twitter @deezthemfg or www.instagram.com/DeeZtheMFG.

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