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Understanding Lonzo Ball's arthroscopic debridement knee procedure

Will Gottlieb Avatar
September 22, 2022

We’ve been seeking a status update on Lonzo Ball’s knee recovery since the Bulls ruled him out for the season on April 6, 2022.

Today, we finally got one.

The Bulls announced Ball will undergo arthroscopic debridement of his left knee on September 28 and will be re-evaluated 4-6 weeks after that.

What is debridement?

Eight months later, Ball is set to have his third procedure (one in 2018 and again in 2022) done on the same knee. The concern with multiple surgeries on the meniscus is that there is theoretically less cushion in the knee to provide shock absorption and stability, especially with a bone bruise as well, with each meniscus shaving.

Dr. Nirav Pandya, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at UCSF explains, that because Ball is still experiencing pain, it makes sense to go back in and investigate.

“The general idea with this procedure is that you are able to look at all the structures inside the knee and “clean out” anything that can be causing irritation,” he said. “You can shave out scar tissue, smooth out cartilage, or remove anything that is loose. You can also repair / shave out more meniscus at the same time.”

Essentially, we are hoping the surgeon identifies some issue such that they can address a root cause.

“[Debridement procedures] can be highly successful if the surgeon finds the source of the pain (i.e. something abnormal),” he continued. “There is a possibility that everything could look absolutely fine, which would leave him back at square one.”

Negative spin:

While there is some immediate consolation in the fact that there is a plan in place, new information does not equal resolution. Clearly, Ball and the Bulls hoped the knee would be ready to go for camp or they wouldn’t have waited six days before training camp to announce his upcoming procedure.

NBC Sports’ KC Johnson reported that there was optimism Ball would be ready to go for the start of training camp as recently as mid-August. Clearly, both Ball and the team hoped strength training and time would heal the injury, but after eight months of attempting to heal, another procedure is a last resort option.

So what happens if this doesn’t resolve the issue?

“If they didn’t find anything wrong, then you are looking at simply more rest / rehab or they could go down the route of injections (i.e. such as platelet rich plasma, cortisone) to help the pain,” Pandya said.

Positive spin:

They say no news is good news, but the opposite has been true for Ball. This is far from a resolution, but it’s nice to hear there is a plan. And although it’s not an ideal news break, it’s a definitive piece of information with a new timeline. I’d rather know “bad” news than go into training camp still uncertain about his status.

We’ll know what the next steps are in six weeks, and even if it takes some extra time for him to recover, missing 15 games at the beginning of the season is better than missing the stretch run and playoffs.

In the meantime, the Bulls have an opportunity to build a self-sufficient team without Ball. Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmu can take on more offensive workload and develop as on-ball creators. They’ll have a chance to develop a more conservative defensive scheme that will be better suited for the long run.

Of course, we wish Ball was healthy and ready to go, but now that they have a general timeline, the Bulls can go into the season knowing who they have and what they are. If he can return, Ball can be the cherry on top rather than a foundational piece whose absence is insurmountable.

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