New Magic Teammates Ecstatic to Have Fultz Aboard

Isaac remembers being extremely impressed with Fultz during high school years
by John Denton

MILWAUKEE – Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac remembers a time not too long away when the only questions surrounding Markelle Fultz were about how to possibly stop him on a basketball court and how good he could potentially become with his breath-taking blend of size, quickness and skill.

The year was 2016, and Isaac – a long-armed forward who was blossoming almost daily with loads of talent of his own – faced off against the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Fultz. They met, first when Fultz played for famed DeMatha (Md.) Catholic, secondly at the Nike Hoop Summit and, later along the AAU circuit. In each of those instances, Isaac got to see first-hand what all the hype was about surrounding the dynamic, playmaking point guard.

``I remember him … just being tough and a really tough guard,’’ Isaac recalled. ``He could shoot the ball, handle it, big body, athleticism. So, I think it’s a great get for us.’’

Isaac, of course, was referring to the Magic’s daring trade on Thursday for Fultz, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Fultz, 20, was dealt following a rocky stint as a professional where he has appeared in just 33 NBA games over a season-and-a-half because of injuries to his wrist and shoulder that dramatically affected his performance. Making matters worse, the pressures of being a top pick and playing in a sports-mad city like Philadelphia only served to add more weight onto his transition to the NBA.

Now, far away from the championship-or-bust expectations in Philly and on an Orlando franchise determined to patiently build around its young core, Fultz will get the clean slate that many feel will help get back to being the dynamic talent he was years earlier.

``With Markelle, I’m extremely excited to talk to him and it’s a fresh start for him in Orlando,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who also dealt with the pressures of being a high draft pick in the past. ``This game is mentally grueling being in the NBA. I’m glad that he’s a part of our team now and hopefully I can talk to him and help him with whatever he’s been going through.’’

Fultz expressed his excitement over getting a fresh start with the Magic on Friday when he dined with the organization’s front-office staff and hung out with long-time friend Mo Bamba, who is going through injury issues of his own with a stress fracture in his left tibia. Fultz took his official physical on Friday and is expected to re-join the Magic next week following the team’s five-day, three-game road trip to Milwaukee, Atlanta and New Orleans.

With Fultz out of game action since Nov. 19 and currently rehabilitating from thoracic outlet syndrome – an impingement of the nerves and/or blood vessels between the neck and shoulder – it is uncertain when he will play again – if, at all, this season for an Orlando squad hoping to make a playoff push.

Still, Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond felt that Fultz’s generational type of talent was too good to pass on. The Magic have tried for years to solve their long-term issues at the point guard position, and the franchise’s front office feels that Fultz could finally be the answer once again healthy and happy. However long that takes, Weltman said, the Magic are committed to helping Fultz along his road to recovery.

``We look forward to getting him in here, getting our arms around him and understanding everything that he’s dealing with,’’ Weltman said. ``Getting him through that, it’s our job organizationally – from the performance directors and the coaches – to put him in a spot to succeed. However long that takes, that’s how long it will take.

``His size, his skill level, his vision and competitiveness – this guy has the whole package. And in today’s NBA, where it’s officiated tightly and there’s very little contact allowed, to have the physical profile of a Markelle Fultz – that big, strapping guard who can blow by you, attack the rim and put pressure on you in all ways, it’s something that we’re all looking for,’’ Weltman added. ``Those are the kinds of guys who dominate games these days. So, it’s our job to get him to his level of potential.’’

The Magic are also hopeful that with Fultz in a basketball environment alongside other young, blossoming players in his age range that he will be able to find comfort and thrive on the court. In addition to having a familiarity with the 21-year-old Isaac – the No. 6 pick from the same 2017 NBA Draft that Fultz headlined – the second-year guard is close friends with Bamba, who is also 20 years old. The two of them played on USA Basketball’s Under-18 team (along with current NBA players Trae Young, Jarrett Allen, Michael Porter Jr., Kevin Huerter, Hamidou Diallo) that not only captured the gold medal in Chile, but it went 5-0 and won by a margin of 30.4 points per game. The tournament MVP, of course, was Fultz, who was at his do-everything best as the squad’s lead guard.

Bamba took to Instagram on Thursday night and Friday morning to playfully welcome Fultz to Orlando. In addition to posting a picture of a workout from last summer, Bamba jokingly chided Fultz for asking to stay at his Orlando condo while getting settled in the area.

As for Isaac, he is just hopeful that Fultz can get back to being the dynamic playmaker that he was at the high school, AAU and college levels years earlier for Orlando. Isaac said candidly that young players in the NBA regularly struggle with the pressures of expectations at the pro level, and often it gets overlooked. Players who are distracted off the court, Isaac noted, often struggle on it and he feels that very well could have been the case with a player a gifted as Fultz.

``You spend one year in college and we’re paid very well for what we do, but there’s so much that goes along with that,’’ admitted Isaac, who noted that his play has taken off of late in part because he stopped ``beating up on myself so much.’’

``It’s hard to play a good basketball game, believe it or not, when you have a lot of things going on in the background,’’ Isaac continued. ``I feel for Markelle in the situation that he’s been in and I’m glad that he’s out of it. Now, he has a fresh start and he can clear his head.’’

Given time to heal his shoulder and rid his head of whatever demons that might have been haunting him and Fultz will once again return to being a top talent, Isaac predicted. And, in time, that will only make the Magic a more dangerous team, he added.

``For (Fultz), the big thing is just about getting back healthy,’’ Isaac said. ``He gets healthy, he’ll be back to his old self, playing the game that he loves. Get him healthy, get him integrated and let’s go.’’

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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