El Segundo — After the Los Angeles Lakers initially held Lonzo Ball out from 5-on-5 scrimmages to start training camp in order to exercise caution with his surgically repaired left knee, Lakers head coach Luke Walton said that Lonzo practiced with contact Thursday — meaning he's back, and by extension can battle for a starting job that is reportedly Rajon Rondo’s Right now.
However, Walton noted that it is highly unlikely that Ball will play in the Lakers’ preseason opener against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
“I doubt he’ll play Sunday,” Walton said. “Today was his first full contact and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
Ball said it felt good to be back out on the court with his teammates and that he had no issues with pain.
“It was good today. I got through the whole practice. Did everything today. Obviously I was a little tired but I had to keep at it,” Ball said. “I haven’t played in a long time so just to be able to get out here, finally, I was happy.”
His coach liked what he saw as well.
“He looked really good. It was good to see him out there cutting and making his reads and his passes,” Walton said.
This wasn’t just Ball’s first full contact practice of training camp, it was the the first full contact practice he has participated in since March.
Ball had a damaged part of his meniscus removed in order to be ready by training camp, but the team wanted to make sure they weren’t rushing him back before he was ready, a trend with a current training staff that seems to very much prioritize full recoveries over getting a player back on the court as quickly as possible.
Ball will have to hit the ground running — pun not intended — because while Rondo has spoken at length about his openness to mentoring Ball and the rest of the young Lakers, no one is best served by Rondo not putting his foot on the gas and trying to earn the starting point guard job. If a recovering Ball can’t beat him out so be it, but he’ll be better off for having tried, and see even more benefit if the competition pushes him up a level in terms of performance.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton has spoken often about the value he places on having a competitive culture, and this season we’ll all get to see how much fruit that can bear at the point guard spot especially, where Ball and Rondo should be pushing each other for minutes throughout the year.
If iron sharpens iron as Walton hopes, then Ball will be better off for it long term, and if it doesn’t, then the Lakers will learn something about Ball just the same. Either way, now that Ball is cleared, he’s free to go out there and show the front office, coaching staff and his teammates what he can bring this year, and hopefully is done with injury setbacks for the rest of the campaign.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.