LOS ANGELES – There was a familiar face commanding the point and charging up and down the court for the Orlando Magic at practice on Friday.
Markelle Fultz joined the team in Los Angeles and practiced with the squad as he continues to hit milestones in his rehab process from a devastating ACL injury in left knee. Although there’s still no timetable on his return, he was overjoyed to be back on the road going through drills with his teammates.
“It was amazing. (First off) just to be back with the team and be with my brothers and with this organization is amazing, but also just to get back into things and be on the road with these guys and get back into that process is, again, just a great experience,” said Fultz. “Again, just trying to get better, just trying to push these guys to get better, and that’s it really.”
Fultz participated fully in the session, taking part in five-on-five scrimmages, three-on-three action, and shooting drills.
“It’s so great to have him out there,” said Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley. “His court presence is great. He’s getting back into it, which is really good. His physicality, his basketball IQ, and then just his spirit of the game. What he brings with the communication, the talking, and getting guys involved. He brings so many of those things, so it’s great to him back on the court (for practice).”
For the 6-foot-4 point guard, this was the next step in his rehab process after he spent time going through practice sessions with the team’s G League affiliate, the Lakeland Magic. He could end up spending more time in Lakeland depending on the Magic's practice, travel and game schedule.
“It helped a lot,” said Fultz of his time in Lakeland. “Once the NBA season started you don’t have that much time we’re you’re allowed to go up-and-down with your brothers. So, being able to go to Lakeland and use that resource to be able to go up-and-down and compete with those guys, and just push myself was all good.”
Fultz’s injury on Jan. 6, 2021 disrupted a breakout season for the University of Washington alum. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft was averaging career bests in points (14.3) and assists (6.1) in the seven games prior to suffering a left knee injury in the eighth contest of Orlando’s 2020-21 campaign.
The Magic jumped out to a 6-2 start to that season, but then lost six straight games after Fultz suffered his knee injury.
“I felt like I was just getting started into a real good groove with a full summer under my belt after coming back for a full season,” Fultz said recently. “Just building mentally. Where I took the big step in the summer was watching a lot of film and understanding the game and slowing it down even more.”
While some fans will certainly clamor to get an exact timeline for Futlz’s return – as well as that of Jonathan Isaac – expect the team to remain steadfast in its policy of focusing on conducting the rehab process the right way rather than stamping unnecessary deadlines on returns.
“I know our fans can get frustrated with some of this, but we always want to put our fans first and be as transparent as possible,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said in late November. “That said, the way that we manage our injuries has to be done with the benefit of our players which is they’re showing up every day, they’re doing their work, and they have to know that the timetables are going to be in accordance with the results of their work. So, no injuries are the same, no two bodies are the same.”
It’s a process that’s appreciated by Fultz, who was acquired by the Magic via a trade deadline deal in Feb. 2019 in the midst of rehabbing his shoulder. It’s something he noticed and valued from day one of his arrival.
“It’s amazing, ever since I first came over here, dealing with the shoulder injury,” Fultz said recently. “That’s the one thing, I always felt like they had open arms, there was no rush (and) I didn’t feel any pressure. But at the same time, we’re all about getting work done. They’ve done a great job of just comforting me and making sure that I’m okay, but also doing the things I need to do to make sure I’m ready. I love the game, so I don’t want to be out any longer than I have to be. It’s all about being smart. They do a great job of making sure that we understand that they’re not putting any (unnecessary) pressure on us.”