The Los Angeles Lakers really miss Lonzo Ball, but unfortunately for the team, it’s far from clear when he’ll be able to get back in the lineup.
This Saturday will mark six weeks since Ball went down and was given a 4-6 week timetable for return. That timetable has since reportedly been extended internally, but while speaking with reporters on Monday morning, Lakers head coach Luke Walton said he wasn’t certain when Ball will be back (via Brad Turner of the L.A. Times):
Ball is in Los Angeles getting treatment, and Walton is not sure when his second-year point guard will return to action.
“Nope, they haven’t given me a date,” Walton said, referring to the training staff and team doctors. “They just said they are working with him and they’ll let me know.”
Walton’s answer doesn’t necessarily mean that the Lakers’ training staff and medical team don’t have a return date for Ball in mind, but it certainly doesn’t make such a return seem imminent.
That’s bad news for the Lakers, who have fallen off a cliff defensively since Ball went down, dropping out of the top 10 in defensive efficiency and into the bottom-five teams in the league in the games since Ball sustained his Grade 3 ankle sprain (and reportedly a bone bruise as well).
Making matters worse — at least in terms of perception — has once again been the messaging about this injury. This is another example of a Lakers-issued medical timetable not being met or seemingly being undersold, similar to Ball’s injury last year — an issue that later required surgery — or LeBron James being declared day-to-day with a groin injury that cost him 18 games this season.
Maybe all of those situations were totally unrelated bad luck, but these timelines seemingly being underestimated is becoming a trend, a trend that creates a perception issue that wouldn’t exist if these players were simply given more conservative timelines for return, or at least given classifications that made their return seem less imminent.
More optimistic timetables lead to expectations, and expectations not being met are the most common causes of disappointment not just in sports, but in life. Maybe there are reasons we can’t understand why the Lakers have given such hopeful timelines for these and other injuries — injuries that in the case of Ball’s Grade 3 sprain were always likely to take longer than the team initially said, even without the bone bruise in addition — but it certainly hasn’t helped stave off disappointment from the fanbase that may not have existed as heavily if they didn’t feel they were constantly getting Charlie Brown’d by the proverbial football of these returns being yanked out from under them.
Still, what’s in the past is in the past, so maybe the Lakers are adjusting in this case and not making any more predictions about Ball’s injury. That’s probably the correct approach, but with just 22 games left in the season, time is a factor here. Even if Ball only misses one more game than he was originally slated to — which seems incredibly unlikely at this point — that would still leave him with just 19 games to regain some semblance of the level of play he displayed earlier this season, all while recovering from an injury.
Ball being able to do so seems improbable, and that’s without considering the possibility that he misses even more time (and has even less than 19 games to return to form in). With that noted, it’s probably getting close to time to forget about Ball’s return fixing things for the Lakers, and consider anything the team gets out of him a bonus for this season.
If Ball comes back and proves that thought process wrong, that would be a great thing for the Lakers. But at least if you prepare yourself for him not to, you can’t be disappointed if he doesn’t.
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