LOS ANGELES — Before Lonzo Ball underwent his most recent medical evaluation prior to the Los Angeles Lakers taking on the Boston Celtics, head coach Luke Walton was cautiously optimistic about what the test would reveal, even if — as he’s implied before — he didn’t seem incredibly confident that Ball would be back anytime soon.
“I’m excited to see how this test goes today, but I think we’ve got a while still,” Walton said.
An ensuing report on the test from Shams Charania of The Athletic seemed to confirm Walton’s suspicions, and that Ball would be out for the year:
For Ball, this will be an opportunity to regain complete health and come into the offseason ready for on-court and body training. Ball has not had a full summer to work on his game, being limited from a knee injury last offseason. https://t.co/NgD9ua1WLx— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 10, 2019
Then, after the game, the Lakers offered another update on Ball, an update that somewhat curiously did not rule him out for the season:
The Lakers say that Lonzo Ball will be re-evaluated in two weeks. I think you should take that with a grain of salt. pic.twitter.com/3e0Q95UIAz— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) March 10, 2019
Shortly afterwards, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN filed his latest report, confirming Charania’s initial scoop that Ball was done for the year:
Lonzo Ball will miss the remainder of the Los Angeles Lakers’ fading season, sources confirmed to ESPN, joining teammate Brandon Ingram on the sideline for the rest of the team’s disappointing campaign.
Sources said Ball has been shut down after trying to make his way back from a Grade 3 ankle sprain and bone bruise first suffered Jan. 19.
So why is there seemingly a discrepancy between what the Lakers are officially saying and what multiple reporters are writing? And no, it’s not because of “fake news.”
The real reason for the different messaging would seem to tie back to the phrasing in Charania’s initial report, the part where he writes that Ball being shut down “will be an opportunity to regain complete health and come into the offseason ready for on-court and body training.”
That is not the same thing is saying that Ball theoretically couldn’t be healthy enough to play again this season, and given the NBA’s crackdown on tanking (and teams that sit out healthy players to do so), I would imagine that the Lakers have to be careful that they follow proper injury procedure and don’t get the league coming after them for sitting a player to help their lottery odds and make sure they’re healthy for the summer. That goes double when factoring in that the Lakers having the chance to bump up their odds of getting a top-five pick from five percent to 32 percent by losing a few more games.
This isn’t to say that the Lakers aren’t correct to shut Ball down, or that they’re only doing so to “tank.” Of course they’re better off ensuring Ball can head into the offseason healthy to develop parts of his individual game that players don’t have time to work on during the season. Them increasing their lottery odds is just a small, but positive, side effect of taking this smarter path forward.
Still, because of how watchful the NBA has been of things like that this season, the team is also probably smart to play things by the book, give Lonzo another two weeks and the look at his injury again before just declaring him out for the year.
This team has taken a lot of (justified) heat for how they’ve handled injury timelines this season — especially Ball’s, he of the original 4-6 week estimate that always seemed wildly over-optimistic — but in this specific instance, they’re smarter to continue to play this like it’s a normal injury, even if Ball being done for the year is the worst-kept “secret” in the NBA over the last 24 hours.