Markelle Fultz Returns to Orlando Magic Practice on Friday

Markelle Fultz
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- ORLANDO -- Orlando Magic players have an active group chat that has helped keep the team connected even during the tough times apart amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

While most of the team had already reunited as part of the NBA's 2019-20 regular season restart plan at a single-site campus in Walt Disney World, Markelle Fultz was absent, missing the Magic’s first seven practices to deal with personal matters not related to COVID-19.

Still, Fultz remained in touch with his teammates through that group text chain. Upon rejoining the team in the campus earlier this week, the Magic’s floor general had to go through a mandatory quarantine period, per NBA protocol, before he could practice or even interact with other members of the squad. Cleared early this morning to resume activities with the Magic, Fultz texted to the group “I’m free.”

Instantly, a number of his teammates responded with messages of “Free Kelle” and “my guy is free.” But perhaps no one summed it up better than Gary Clark who said, “we feel complete.”

“It’s huge to have him back on the court, because he’s one of the floor generals, along with our other point guards,” Clark explained. “But he just brings a different dynamic to our group on and off the court that it feels good just to have him here.”

With Orlando’s starting point guard now back in the fold, the hope is that he can soon recapture his dynamic form and return to his high level of play that helped the Magic become one of the league's most impressive offensive units before the season came to a halt.

In the Magic’s five games in March before the season was postponed, Fultz averaged 15.4 points and 6.4 assists, while going 55.7 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from three-point range.

“I was playing with a lot of confidence and just using my pace of play,” Futlz said. “Just getting to my sweet spots, the midrange, taking open shots (and) just getting these guys involved. I learned the game more and more as the season went on.”

Fultz improvement in the midrange was extremely noticeable during that span. Over that five-game period, he shot a team-best 68.8 percent from that part of the floor.

“If you watch from the beginning of the year to when the season stopped, he had grown tremendously,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said. “He was playing at a totally different level.”

Fultz estimates it will take him at least a week to return to game shape. He’ll use team practices along with three scrimmages to hone his skills before Orlando’s first seeding game against the Brooklyn Nets on July 31.

Still, he’s more than happy just to finally be around his teammates, an entire group that previously he was only connected to via text.

“It felt great to be around the guys again, I think that was the biggest part,” Fultz said. “Just seeing the guys and being able to interact with them.”

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