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Should We Be More Worried About Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers’ second-year point guard revealed he had part of his meniscus removed, and with LeBron James and Rajon Rondo in town, he now faces even more pressure than he did last season

Lonzo Ball Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There’s Woj, there’s Shams, and then there’s Ball in the Family. The Facebook reality series chronicling the Ball family’s life sometimes proves its value. Full disclosure: I didn’t know the show was still on during the offseason. But those who did (thank you, Lonzo Wire) get an occasional glimpse behind the curtain of stories that were written about weeks or months prior. The latest news to come out of the show is that the arthroscopic left knee surgery that Lonzo Ball underwent in July for a torn meniscus resulted in its partial removal.

Ball missed 30 games during his rookie season because of a left knee injury. He reportedly received a platelet-rich plasma injection to strengthen his knee after sitting out the Lakers’ final eight games. The PRP shot also kept him away from basketball activities for a month during the offseason. That he had specifically suffered a meniscus tear wasn’t reported until two days before free agency officially began. Ball said on the show that the PRP shot wasn’t enough.

“That didn’t work, so the last option is surgery,” he said. Ball further explained to his father, LaVar: “They’ve got to take [the meniscus] out. They said they could repair it, but it would take me six months to get back. But if they just take it out, it will only be six weeks.”

As we’ve seen with players like Dwyane Wade, the removal of a meniscus that’s too damaged to repair can lead to recurring knee issues. But the timeline that Ball laid out is important here. He chose the route that already has him back on the court preparing for next season and life with LeBron James. But without knowing the specifics of his injury, such a short-term option for a 20-year-old seems a bit worrisome, no? (Though research dug up by the Silver Screen & Roll blog suggests that worry may be unfounded.)

Video clips of Ball practicing at the Lakers’ facility suggest he will be ready for training camp in two weeks. The first thing that jumps out is his shot. He’s tweaked his form, if only slightly, to a release a bit more common than the side slingshot launch that he’s known for.

Last season Ball shot 36 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3. Those numbers need to improve in his second season—especially so now, given the Lakers’ dearth of shooting and the increased expectations with LeBron in town.

It’s remarkable how much pressure Lonzo has already played under. Some of it self- or family-inflicted (I did start this blog talking about a Facebook reality show), some of it by circumstance. He entered the league as the no. 2 overall selection handpicked by Magic Johnson to bring one the most storied franchises, and Ball’s hometown team, back to glory. Every minute of his early games was picked apart because of all of the noise his father made in the media. Now, he somehow faces more pressure. Along with LeBron, the Lakers also signed Rajon Rondo this summer. Though Rondo is 32 and has struggled to remain relevant since leaving Boston, he’s coming off a breakthrough season when he helped push the Pelicans, and Anthony Davis, to another level. It’s hard to imagine that he left New Orleans just to serve as Ball’s mentor.

In retrospect, the addition of Rondo seems more like a Lonzo contingency plan. The Lakers plucked Rondo out of NOLA for $9 million, to the befuddlement of pretty much everyone. If Ball’s status for camp or for the start of the season is in doubt, or if the risk of reinjury is increased, the one-year deal for a steady hand at point guard makes a lot more sense. Rondo brings a lot of the things Ball does to the table, without the learning curve. The Lakers won’t miss a beat if they decide to give him the lion’s share of the minutes at the 1.

It’s interesting that the Lakers’ first season with LeBron has been framed as a trial run. Let the kids grow, wait to sign Kawhi Leonard next summer, and go for it in 2019-20. But for all the talk of patience—which, for what it’s worth, is what LeBron sold right before the Cavs traded for Kevin Love, too—one serious injury could alter their timeline. This is LeBron’s show now.