It’s beginning to look increasingly unlikely that we’lll see Lonzo Ball back on the court for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. In speaking to reporters Friday afternoon, Luke Walton made it clear that the second-year point guard is not close to returning, though he will be re-evaluated by doctors on Saturday.
This most recent update also shouldn’t take anyone by surprise, seeing as just a few days ago, Ball was barely able to jump and has yet to rejoin the team in any basketball capacity:
Luke Walton is making it sound likely that Lonzo Ball will sit out rest of season. He has stressed he’s “not close” to returning to practice, and LAL would want a week’s worth of practice before putting in games. Goal could soon shift to getting him healthy for full offseason.— Bill Oram (@billoram) March 8, 2019
There is a possibility Lonzo Ball sits the rest of the season to fully recover from a sprained ankle, Luke Walton said.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) March 8, 2019
Luke Walton on Lonzo Ball: "It’s almost getting to the point where the true value comes from, ‘Let’s get him as healthy as possible so he has however many months this summer to really expand and keep working on his game.’"— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) March 8, 2019
Luke Walton implies that there’s no hurry to get Lonzo Ball (sprained ankle) back on the court, but Ball will be evaluated again by doctors Saturday.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) March 8, 2019
Lonzo is jumping a bit more while shooting than on Wednesday after practice, and also went through ball handling drills with development coach Miles Simon when media came in. We’ll see what the update is tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/qfkFjqPPnm— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 8, 2019
Again, Ball suffered a grade 3 ankle sprain, meaning there was a complete or near-complete tear of the ankle ligament. This type of injury often requires surgery and, if no surgery is needed, a return time is usually set at between 10 and 12 weeks after the initial sprain. Despite what the Lakers said, Ball ever coming back between four and six weeks was always an unrealistically hopeful scenario.
All that timeline did was get fans’ hopes up, when he fails to meet those lofty expectations (set by his own team, mind you), Ball is the one who looks soft of unable to play through pain. Literally no one benefits from the way the Lakers have handled this and other injuries players have suffered this season.
If Ball doesn’t return this season, he will have once again failed to play at least 60 games in a season. He’s still yet to have played in 100 total NBA games (he’ll be stuck at 99 total if he doesn’t come back). This isn’t to say that Ball is for sure injury prone, by the way. Plenty of athletes have missed chunks of their first couple seasons as their bodies grew accustomed to the grind of professional basketball. But until Ball proves otherwise, the Lakers should probably rethink the point guard position behind him.
Last year, Tyler Ennis was the primary backup and, well, we don’t need to revisit that experience for my own mental wellbeing. This season, Rajon Rondo was expected to step in and stabilize the position while Lonzo was out. Rondo is obviously better than Ennis, but not by enough that he could keep the Lakers afloat while Ball has been out. Rondo’s also missed a good chunk of this season, too, which hasn’t helped either.
Until Ball proves that he can actually stay healthy, the front office has to do more to shore up the point guard rotation behind him, no matter how special Ball might be. One nice thing that helps in this regard is Lonzo’s size, which allows him to slide down to shooting guard and open up minutes for his backup should they be tougher to come by when both are healthy. I’d also advise a third-string point guard or at least a combo guard just in case another season like this occurs where both Ball and his back-up struggle to stay healthy.
We’ll see how the next update looks tomorrow, but it is nearing a point where the Lakers should seriously consider getting out ahead of this recovery and looking into whether surgery — or simply shutting Ball down — is the most logical next step so that Ball might have the benefit of a full summer’s worth of preparation for next season. It’s not surprising that it sounds like things might be heading that way.