ORLANDO – Two of the Orlando Magic’s foundational pieces continue to make strides as they hit milestones in their rehab.
Fans eager for updates to the conditions of Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac were provided additional insight on Friday morning as both Fultz and Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman spoke to the media after shootaround.
“As they have their occasional checkups with doctors, and they have imaging, I can just tell you they’re both moving forward and they’re doing great,” Weltman explained. “I can tell you that Markelle, we just sent him down this week to start practicing with Lakeland because they’ll have more live-action situations than we’ll have in the middle of an NBA season. So, he’s starting to ramp up to that phase where he’s actually starting to get involved in some live action. Jonathan isn’t at that point yet, but he continues to make great, steady progress and they’re both doing really well.”
As the Magic’s President of Basketball Operations indicated, in addition to going through on-court work in Orlando, Fultz has also been practicing in Lakeland with the team’s G League squad when the Magic are on the road. Prior to stepping over to speak with the media, the physical point guard engaged in two-on-two drills that also included teammates Moe Wagner and Ignas Brazdeikis, who spent time after shootaround working with Orlando’s floor general.
“I’m very excited with where I am at and where I am going,” Fultz explained. “It’s the next step in the process. When I first got injured, it was all about steps. Knowing it’s going to be a long journey but taking it one step at a time. Right now, I’m in the process of getting back into things, bumping, and getting up and down. Getting my conditioning right. Like I said, I feel really good.”
Fultz’s injury on Jan. 6, 2021 disrupted a breakout season for the 6-foot-4 guard. 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 devastating ACL injury in his left knee 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. “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.”
Isaac, meanwhile, continues to look to build strength in his knee after an ACL injury disrupted an amazing comeback story.
After suffering a knee injury on New Year’s Day of 2020, it appeared that Isaac’s season was over. However, with the season being interrupted due to COVID-19 and not resuming until late in the summer, the 6-foot-10 forward was able to make a stunning return in the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World.
Isaac scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds in just seven minutes of playing time during his first game back in a scrimmage against the Denver Nuggets. He tallied 16 points in 16 minutes during Orlando’s win over the Brooklyn Nets in the Magic’s first seeding game, and then had four points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals against the Kings on Aug. 2, 2020 before the injury.
Now, despite his eagerness to get back on the court, the sixth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft remains focused on strengthening his knee and staying patient as he relentlessly continues to ramp up his rehab and prepare for in-game action.
“It’s everything. There’s a right way to do this and the most important thing for Jonathan is not just that we address the injury, but his whole body,” Weltman said. “He’s missed essentially two years of action and there’s a lot that comes with that. So, making sure that his body is balanced, that it’s strengthened everywhere, that his core is tight. In the meantime, he’s using the time very productively. His body is filling out, his shot looks way improved from the last time he was on the court, and he’s in a really good place.”
While some fans may desire exact timelines for the Magic’s two young standouts, the team remained steadfast in its policy of instead 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,” Weltman said. “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 came to the team in 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. “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.”