MCW's Return Gives Injury-Riddled Magic Much-Needed Backcourt Help

by John Denton

SAN FRANCISCO – At long last, the Orlando Magic got veteran Michael Carter-Williams back from a shoulder injury on Saturday, and his return gave them some much-needed depth at the point guard position.

Carter-Williams returned after missing 13 consecutive games from Dec. 23-Jan. 16 with a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder suffered when he violently collided with Portland center Skal Labissiere on Dec. 20.

``It’s good because I had a little time off to regroup and the training staff has been great getting me back in place and I’m just excited,’’ Carter-Williams said prior to Saturday’s game at the new Chase Center in downtown San Francisco.

The return of Carter-Williams couldn’t come soon enough for the Magic what with the team recently releasing Josh Magette and losing veteran backup D.J. Augustin to a knee injury. A recent MRI revealed ``bone irritation’’ in Augustin’s left knee and the team has said he will be out three-to-four weeks before he is fully reevaluated for a return.

Forced to play without Augustin and Carter-Williams this week, the Magic had starter Markelle Fultz as the only healthy point guard available to play against the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. That lack of depth didn’t hurt as much in the first game when Fultz authored a masterful triple-double performance, but it bothered Orlando terribly in Thursday’s loss to the Clippers. In the 18 minutes that Fultz wasn’t on the floor against the Clippers, the Magic were a minus-15 on the scoreboard.

``There’s not any other position that’s as important in terms of being organized,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said. ``Forget playing well and executing, just being organized, you need to have point guards on the floor.’’

Added Carter-Williams, who was used previously as a shooting guard and small forward: ``Pushing the ball, getting guys where they need to go, making sure that we’re organized out there. It’s just being a second-hand (Clifford) out there and it’s good because I get to play point guard again and get guys organized and do the things that we need to do to win.’’

Asked recently if he needed to alter his style of play to avoid the kinds of hip, facial and shoulder injuries that have knocked him out of 22 games this season, Carter-Williams said: ``I couldn’t change if I wanted to. I can’t not go hard through screens and I can’t not play defense hard. It’s just the way I’m built and the way that I play. I’ve had injuries before and I’m not going to switch up the way that I play.’’

KERR ON FULTZ: Add Golden State coach Steve Kerr to the long list of coaches who have looked on from afar and admired the massive growth made by Fultz, who has evolved into a steady, go-to player in the Magic’s offense this season. Fultz came into Saturday’s game in San Francisco averaging 12.5 points, 5.7 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals over the previous 10 games.

``He’s athletic and really big for a point guard,’’ Kerr said of the 6-foot-4, 209-pound Fultz. ``That’s what stands out on the (video) tape – his size and his ability to get into the paint and all the way to the rim and use his length and strength against smaller defenders.’’

Kerr said he was also happy for Fultz for the manner in which he’s battled through the Thoracic Outlet Syndrome injury to his right shoulder that threatened to wreck his NBA career before it ever really began.

``More than anything, I’m just happy for him that he is playing and is productive,’’ Kerr added. ``It’s been a rough couple of years and you always like to see people come through and turn things around after a rocky time and/or a rocky start. I’m really happy for him.’’

Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown, who worked with Fultz prior to him being traded to the Magic, recently revealed that he reached out to the point guard to congratulate him on his triple-double effort in Wednesday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

MCW’S FEARS SUBSIDE: Traded and waived last January by the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls, Carter-Williams had the fear come across him that most all NBA players encounter at some point in their careers: That he would no longer be wanted by another NBA team.

Alas, Carter-Williams’ fears were put to rest a few months later when he joined the Magic for a couple of 10-day contracts. He ultimately re-signed with the Magic for the rest of the season and helped the Magic reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Carter-Williams was such a driving force and a difference-maker on that Magic team that he didn’t have to go through those same fears this summer as the Magic re-signed him in early July.

He admitted the time he spent out of the NBA last season was troubling because he wasn’t ready for his professional career to come to an end. Living out of Los Angeles at the time, Carter-Williams worked out and played pick-up basketball daily to keep himself ready when-and-if a call came from another NBA team. And when the Magic came calling, Carter-Williams was ready mentally and physically to do what it took to get back into the NBA.

``I was scared, and I was afraid, but I was more afraid of getting a call and not being ready,’’ he admitted. ``So, that’s why I continued to work as hard as I could. If I did get a call, I didn’t know if it could have been my last. That was more the fear, but I definitely thought about that. Of course, that’s going to run through your mind because it’s only natural.’’

UP NEXT: After being on the West Coast for much of the past 10 days, the Magic will spend much of Sunday travelling back East and trying to get adjusted to the time change. The Magic will fly from San Francisco to Charlotte on Sunday and are scheduled to hold a light practice at the Spectrum Center later that night.

The Magic face the Southeast Division rival Charlotte Hornets on Monday (tip time: 5 p.m.). While the Magic will be at the end of a six-game, 12-day road trip, the Hornets have been off since Wednesday. After playing the Magic, Charlotte will depart for Paris where it will face the Milwaukee Bucks in the inaugural NBA Paris Game 2020.

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.

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