Here’s what we know about the medical status of Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball right now:
- Lonzo is 100 percent medically cleared to play.
- Lonzo currently isn’t playing and is only participating in non-contact drills once a day.
What’s the disconnect? Are Luke and the medical staff waging a war behind closed doors with Rob Pelinka reading calming haikus and Magic asking “why can’t we all just get along?”
In reality, the true disconnect is between the media and public’s understanding of medical clearance, and the return to play process. Let me try to clear that up.
Basically, Lonzo is 100 percent cleared to start the process of returning to play, but not actually cleared to play 5-on-5. There is a step-by-step process he has to go through first.
What being cleared seems to mean in this case is that from a biological healing standpoint, Lonzo’s knee and meniscus are good to go. The imaging looks like what they (the medical staff) expected, his knee swelling (this is normal after any surgery) is gone, he’s able to complete pain-free range of motion, and he’s at his baseline level of strength.
What’s critical to understand is that none of these tell you how Lonzo’s mind, body, and knee are going to tolerate actual basketball activity. They are indicators, yes, but they are not definite.
The prime example of this fact was Kawhi in San Antonio last year. The Spurs medical staff said his quad was medically healed and cleared (which was a key mistake on their part and drove the wedge even deeper in my opinion). All the indicators were positive, but he was not responding well to higher intensity and volume basketball activities. Medically cleared doesn’t mean ready to play.
To that point, the Lakers medical staff doesn’t know how Lonzo’s body will tolerate activity until they expose him to higher levels of stress. Levels of stress that cannot be replicated off the court.
Therefore, as the rehab team has methodically done since Marco Nunez took over (evidenced by their drawn out process last season with Lonzo’s grade I MCL tear and Ingram’s groin strain), they are taking Lonzo through an incremental process that gradually increases intensity and volume to acclimate Lonzo back to basketball activities after five months of being off the court. After each day, Nunez and co. gauge Lonzo’s response to the activity.
That step-by-step process could look something like this:
This is nothing out of the ordinary, nor anything to be concerned about. In fact, I’d be concerned if the rehab team wasn’t doing things this way. Ramping up too quickly (“too much, too soon”) is one of the most common ways to get injured or re-injured. You have to dose activity appropriately, and methodically prepare Lonzo for the higher stress levels associated with two a days, run-throughs, 5-on-5 scrimmages, and eventually, actual games. Lonzo can’t skip steps.
There were waves yesterday when it was reported that Rajon Rondo was currently the Lakers’ starter at point guard. But Lonzo currently isn’t playing, so yes, of course Rondo is the starter. It doesn’t mean he is certain to be when Lonzo returns.
Whenever Luke talks about player injuries, his MO is to not place outside expectations or extra pressure on the process. He always goes with whatever the medical staff tells him, “whenever they tell me he can do X, then he will do X.” He allows the medical staff do their jobs and exercise their expertise without interference — that’s exactly the type of coach and understanding you want.
So yes, Lonzo is 100 percent medically cleared to play but he isn’t playing yet. And that makes perfect sense.
You can follow Dr. Brar on Twitter @3cbPerformance.