Isaac Hopes to Return Friday vs. Pistons

by John Denton

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic continued to take the cautious approach with rehabilitating rookie Jonathan Isaac, holding him out of action once again on Wednesday night.

Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, played two G League games with the Lakeland Magic last week and was put on a track to return to NBA action on Wednesday after rejoining the team on Sunday in Oklahoma City. However, the Magic’s medical staff informed head coach Frank Vogel and Isaac on Tuesday that the rookie wasn’t fully ready to play in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Raptors and he was held out of action again.

Isaac, 20, injured his right ankle on Nov. 11, had two aborted comebacks cut short by lingering pain and hasn’t played in a NBA game since Dec. 26. This time around, the 6-foot-10, 222-pound forward was held out of action after he experienced some aches and pains in his body following the consecutive days of G League game action.

``Going through those two games and getting that first jolt of action of being out there, you definitely feel it when you haven’t done it in a while,’’ Isaac said. ``I definitely felt that, and I think that might be one of the reasons that they want to make sure everything is 100 percent.’’

Orlando plays home games on Friday and Saturday against the Detroit Pistons and the Memphis Grizzlies, and for now at least, Isaac is shooting for Friday’s game as his targeted return.

Isaac was a defensive difference-maker early in the season when he played 13 consecutive games. Since then, however, he’s missed 46 and 48 games. But, like the Magic, he is remaining patient with his recovery in hopes that he will be fully cleared upon returning to game action. He even managed a little bit of levity on what had to be a frustrating day, referencing his NBA debut back on Oct. 18 when he went out to the bench without his jersey on under his warmup jacket.

``I just want to, you know what I’m saying, follow the instructions and whatever they want do and think is best for me, that’s best for me,’’ Isaac said. ``I just want to play, man, and do what I do and play hard and see what happens. I think I’m going to surprise myself. I get butterflies before every game and it’s not until you get into the flow and see the ball move that it goes away. I’ve just got to make sure that I don’t forget my jersey again. I’ll make sure that I’ve got that front and center.’’

FAN OF WELTMAN: Jeff Weltman helped the Raptors to their greatest string of success in his four years in Toronto and head coach Dwane Casey sees no reason why the Magic’s President of Basketball Operations can’t do the same sort of thing in Orlando.

During his time as Toronto’s executive Vice President of Basketball Operations and GM, the Raptors reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016, made the playoffs four times and won three Atlantic Division titles.

Weltman left Toronto last May for Orlando where he is in charge of all the Magic’s basketball decisions. He and GM John Hammond had a strong first offseason, drafting Wes Iwundu and Isaac and signing Jonathon Simmons, Marreese Speights, Arron Afflalo and Khem Birch in free agency. Weltman vowed to use this first regular season for evaluation of the team and will then proceed toward charting the franchise’s direction for the future.

Casey, Toronto’s head coach the past six seasons and someone who worked closely with Weltman for four years in Toronto, feels the Magic have the proper pieces in place to make dramatic improvements in the coming years.

``Jeff knows his stuff, he’s a veteran front-office guy, he knows players and I really enjoyed working with him while he was in Toronto,’’ Casey said. ``He had a lot of input on what we’re doing now in terms of the team, the players and the style. He was huge in (evaluating) analytics and making sure that you played the analytical way, so Orlando has a good front-office man in Jeff.

``His work is cut out for him, but I tell you what, he’s got a lot to work with here, too,’’ continued Casey, referring to Orlando’s core players. ``… They have some work to do, but Jeff will get it done. He and John will do an excellent job of putting their team together. I just hope they don’t do it too quickly.’’

SERGE OF EMOTION: While Serge Ibaka’s one season with the Magic certainly didn’t work out on the floor, something sentimental did happen along the way for the veteran big man: He fell in love with sunny Orlando and he plans to make his offseason home in Central Florida for years to come.

Not only does Ibaka still own a home in Orlando, but his daughter still lives in the Central Florida area.

``I feel like I’m coming back home because I still have my place here and my family is still here,’’ Ibaka said on Wednesday morning prior to playing in Orlando for the first time since he was traded to Toronto on Feb. 14 of 2017. ``I’m excited to be back.’’

Orlando traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Oklahoma City in June of 2016 for Ibaka and they hoped the shot-blocking power forward would shore up their defense. However, Ibaka never truly fit in during his 56-game stint in Orlando (15.1 ppg., 6.8 rpg., 1.6 bpg.) and he was dealt last February to Toronto for guard Terrence Ross and a first-round draft pick.

``In life sometimes, not everything that we try to do or every plan that we have works our way,’’ Ibaka said. ``So, sometimes we just have to say, `Hey, I tried the best that I (could) and it didn’t work and move on.’ I’ve just tried to move on and focus on my (Toronto) team, enjoy that and keep moving.’’

The Raptors signed Ibaka to a massive free-agent deal back in July and his numbers this season have fallen off (13.1 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 1.4 bpg.) despite their tremendous team success. Even though his in-season base is in Canada, Ibaka said his offseason summer home will continue to be in Orlando.

``I just fell in love (with Orlando) when I got here, and my daughter just loved it here,’’ Ibaka said. ``Like I say again, sometimes life is going to send you somewhere you don’t expect, and you’ll just end up there. So, yeah, I think so (he’ll end up living in Orlando).’’

UP NEXT: Orlando will be back on the practice floor on Thursday before facing a race home-and-home back-to-back set of games. On Friday, the Magic will face the Detroit Pistons at the Amway Center and they will host the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night.

The Magic are 1-1 against the Pistons this season, winning in Orlando and losing in Detroit. Orlando won in Memphis in OT early in the season when it was off to a surprising 6-2 start.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.