Hornets All-Star LaMelo Ball reportedly expected to return vs. Spurs after 7-week absence

LaMelo Ball is back.

The Charlotte Hornets All-Star is slated to return to the lineup Friday against the San Antonio Spurs following a seven-week absence due to an ankle injury, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports. Per the report, Ball participated in shoot-around Friday morning.

Ball hasn't played since he sprained his right ankle against the Orlando Magic on Nov. 26. The injury was to the same ankle that required season-ending surgery after he fractured it last season.

LaMelo Ball is expected to return Friday night against the San Antonio Spurs. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
LaMelo Ball is expected to return Friday against the San Antonio Spurs. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The news is welcome for a Hornets team that has gone 3-17 in Ball's absence. The 8-27 Hornets enter Friday's action in 13th in the Eastern Conference. Ball, 22, was averaging a career-high 24.7 points alongside 8.2 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals while shooting 38.8% from 3-point distance in the 15 games prior to his injury.

When healthy, the fourth-year pro has lived up to the expectations that made him the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NBA draft. But injuries have limited Ball significantly in three of his four seasons. He played in just 36 games last season and in 51 as a rookie in 2020-21. He was named Rookie of the Year that season despite missing 31 games and was named an All-Star in his second season, when he played in 75 games.

Ball returns with the Hornets 6.5 games behind the 10th-place Brooklyn Nets, who would claim the final spot in the Eastern Conference play-in if the postseason started today.

Ball's return comes with additional good news for the Hornets' All-Star. Per Wojnarowski, the league won't fine Ball for an "LF" neck tattoo promoting Ball's clothing brand LaFrancé. The NBA previously required Ball to cover the tattoo during games or risk being fined for a violation of league rules prohibiting the display of non-sanctioned commercial logos on the floor.