Lonzo Ball says time with Bulls has been a big ‘what if’ moment, is ‘on track’ to return after this season

When the Chicago Bulls tip off the 2023-24 season they’ll be doing so, once again, without their starting point guard in Lonzo Ball. It’s a familiar feeling for the Bulls, who were without Ball for all of last season as well due to setbacks while recovering from multiple surgeries to his left knee.

Ball’s injury has been one of the more disheartening storylines over the last couple seasons due to Chicago’s success with him on the floor. While it was only 35 games, Ball was an essential piece in the Bulls starting out the 2021-22 season so strong, climbing as high as the No. 1 seed in the East prior to Ball going down with the injury.

The former No. 2 overall pick called it a “what if” moment in his career during an appearance on the “From the Point Podcast by Trae Young,” while also feeling bad for the Bulls front office.

“It’s gonna be a big what if,” Ball said. “I feel bad just for the GM, just because I feel like they made the perfect team around me. That was the most I’ve ever been involved in an organization and I finally got the perfect team that I felt like could fit my game, play my way and really just do what I wanted to do. That injury — I’m still going through it right now — but that one messed me up early just because I feel like we really had a chance and never got to see what it was.”

Chicago had a potent offense centered around Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. Ball was the initiator of Chicago’s offense, dishing the ball to LaVine and DeRozan. He also had a solid pick-and-pop game with Vucevic, and was amongst the most reliable 3-point shooters on the roster, connecting on 42.3% of his shots from deep on over seven attempts a game. But it was Ball’s defense that really made the Bulls go. Together with defensive pest Alex Caruso, the duo were constantly disrupting opposing offensive schemes and helping Chicago get out in transition and push the pace.

During those 35 games that Ball played, the Bulls went 22-13, including a 6-1 start to open the season. However, once Ball was sidelined the Bulls fell from first in the East to sixth and lost in five games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

The Bulls felt Ball’s absence even more last season as the team finished ninth in the East with a 40-42 record and lost in the play-in round to miss the playoffs. But while Ball will miss the entirety of the upcoming season, the guard said he is on track to make a return.

“I’m just taking it day by day,” Ball said. “I just had a really big surgery, hopefully the last one I ever have to get but it’s a long process. I’m already out this whole next season — when I first got hurt we didn’t really know what it was. I’ve seen all types of different doctors and stuff and I was kind of just going up and down. That was really hard for me because I just didn’t know what the next day was going to be like. At least now I got the surgery, we got a plan moving forward, we’ve been on plan and I’m on track. Hopefully everything works out.”

While the Bulls will still miss Ball’s presence on the floor, the team is at least better equipped to withstand his absence after signing guard Jevon Carter in free agency. Carter will certainly bring the defensive intensity needed in Chicago’s backcourt, and he’s coming off a season where he shot 42.1% from deep on four attempts per game. Between him, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White, the latter two of which Chicago re-signed this summer, the Bulls should have some depth in the backcourt to hold things together while Ball continues his lengthy rehab process.

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