LaMelo Ball Could Return This Season After Wrist Surgery, Hornets GM Says

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2021

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball looks to pass the ball against the Denver Nuggets in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak isn't ruling out the possibility of rookie guard LaMelo Ball returning this season.

Ball underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a fractured right wrist he suffered on March 20. Per Steve Reed of the Associated Press, Kupchak said the team thought the injury was season-ending but became more optimistic about his chances to return this campaign after the MRI.

"What [the surgery] doesn't do is preclude him from coming back this season," Kupchak said.

Kupchak noted that Ball will be re-evaluated in "four or five weeks." The latter portion of that timetable would land on April 27, which would be roughly three weeks before the end of the regular season on May 16.

Kupchak noted that the Hornets are taking a wait-and-see approach with Ball, who is currently in a cast. The GM also said the organization won't "put his health in jeopardy" by rushing Ball back.

Prior to getting injured, the 19-year-old Ball had firmly established himself as the front-runner for the NBA Rookie of the Year award.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft was performing beyond expectations with averages of 15.9 points, 6.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds, 2.0 three-pointers made and 1.6 steals per contest. He was also shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from beyond the arc in 41 games, including 21 starts.

With Ball playing at a high level alongside Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and others, the Hornets are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference at 22-21.

If the Hornets do manage to hold on and make the playoffs, it will mark their first postseason appearance since the 2015-16 campaign.

Charlotte has a solid chance to make the playoffs even if Ball doesn't return this season since the Eastern Conference is relatively weak outside of the top few teams, but having Ball is likely a must if the Hornets want to do some damage once they reach the playoffs.

With that said, it is difficult to envision the Hornets beating the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks in a first- or second-round playoff series with or without Ball.

The Hornets have an exceedingly bright future thanks largely to Ball, but they have a ways to go before being considered among the elite, championship-contending teams in the league.

Ensuring Ball's health for the long-term should be Charlotte's top priority, and based on Kupchak's comments, it seems as though the Hornets are doing just that.