Markell Fultz is feeling the positive energy of his acquisition with the Orlando Magic. It represents a fresh start for the former top overall pick.
Markelle Fultz has not fully settled into his new team. He has not joined them for any practices and has only been in the Amway Center for two days.
The former top overall pick is rehabbing his shoulder for thoracic outlet syndrome in Los Angeles with his agent and family for support. Soon the Orlando Magic will send their own medical team to observe and assist in any way they can.
Already though, Markelle Fultz feels at home.
A new setting and surrounding bring some life into any franchise and new player. The positive vibes from the Fultz trade are still coming off the franchise even though Fultz has not played a game and there is still no timetable for his return.
A new environment is helping everyone — and the future still seems like it is possible.
“[A new environment] can help me a lot,” Fultz said. “I think already the team is 4-0 since I got traded. They are headed in the right direction. I feel like it is just the energy going through. I’m just so happy. I’m so excited for the team. I know a lot of the guys. I think it is going to be fun. These guys are amazing. I feel like I’m at home already. I just can’t wait.”
The 4-0 line got a big laugh from everyone in the room. Coach Steve Clifford leaned back in his chair on the dais as Markelle Fultz cracked the joke.
His presence is not the cause of the team’s sudden win streak or surge. But it has led to a wave of optimism within the franchise.
Here the Magic are acquiring a former top overall pick. Someone who was the consensus top prospect in a loaded 2017 Draft class.
As president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said, it is rare to get the chance to add a player of Markelle Fultz’s ability. Someone who has the size, IQ, vision and skills necessary in the NBA.
Clifford said Fultz can be a player who can defend multiple positions and get into the paint to cause the defense to collapse. Weltman and Clifford agreed, there are not too many things Fultz cannot do.
In looking at the trade, it was a no-brainer to pursue the deal.
“I can tell you when we latched onto conversations initially with the [Philadelphia 76ers], it was one that immediately grabbed our focus,” Weltman said. “The NBA trade deadline and draft, the two big hits in the season where we get a chance to evaluate who we are, seldom presents obvious choices. For us, this was an obvious choice. We were very aggressive in pursuing it once we recognized it as a real viable option.”
That is when he is healthy. And that remains the big question. The unanswered question left in the room as the Magic introduced their new acquisition to the media.
No timetable for return
There is no timetable for his return. Fultz would not put that on himself either, echoing the same line Weltman has given about it.
Fultz said he will do things the right way.
What that means is likely a slow process of checking and double checking on his health so that when he does return, it will be for good. It will be in a way that ensures he gets the chance to grow and develop into the player the Magic hope he can become.
He is in no hurry to get there. Not while his body is still recovering from a major injury.
“I think the biggest thing that we have talked about is just doing stuff the right way and building me up both as a man and on the court,” Fultz said. “I think that is music to my ears. Two things I really want to do is be the best player I can be and be the best young man I can be. They do a great job of doing that as you can see with the team they have now and what they’re doing now. I think that is perfect.”
Fultz’s diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome was a long time coming. He said it is hard to diagnosis and there are only a few NBA players who have been diagnosed with the issue.
Fultz said it is hard to describe what it feels like. He said it is hard to lift up your arms and you lose feeling in your fingers. It is not something that happens with every shot or every time. But it happens and creates discomfort.
There is no doubt this had an effect on his output. After averaging 23.2 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game and 5.9 assists per game on 53.5 percent effective field goal percentage (impressive considering his high usage with the Washington Huskies), he struggled with shoulder and wrist injuries and rarely played his rookie year.
He started off this year ostensibly healthy, but he struggled with his shot as the TOS worsened or went undiagnosed.
In 22.5 minutes per game this year for the Philadelphia 76ers, Fultz averaged 8.2 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game and 3.1 assists per game with a 43.2 percent effective field goal percentage. His free throw percentage dropped to just a hair better than 50 percent (sparking Internet memes for the weird hitch he developed).
There were whispers he had lost confidence. Especially since his injury went undiagnosed, no one has a more reasonable explanation for his sudden drop in production.
Fultz never bought that. He said it was the injury and not a loss of confidence that hurt him through his career so far.
“No,” Fultz said when asked if he had lost confidence in himself or his shot. “One, I have a love for the game. Any time I get a chance to wake up, one it’s a blessing. And two, I get a chance to get better every day. I had an injury. I was out there trying to play through that. I never lost confidence. I love this game dearly. I worked so hard to get here. I’m just working to get back and be healthy. I’m great.”
Getting the diagnosis was critical for Fultz. Now that he has it, he said he has spent every day attacking rehab with the injury and working to get better. A lot of that has and will continue to happen within his own team.
That garnered criticism of its own. But that was because of the pressure that came attached to his name.
Fultz entered a 76ers team that was suddenly a contender. They were suddenly playing meaningful games and the pressure on Fultz to perform — not only as the top overall pick but as a player on a championship-contending team — was a lot to put on him. Especially as he dealt with injuries.
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Moving forward with rehab
Whether Fultz can truly regain all that lost time and make good on his vast talent is still a mystery. The Magic are eager to help him along the way. Fultz seems hungry to get back to becoming the player he was before.
That is going to be a long and slow process still. Fultz would not comment on how close he thinks he is to shooting without discomfort. It does not seem like he wants to put any timetable on his return either. He just wants to get right and get healthy.
“It’s right now about getting everything the right way,” Fultz said. “Rehab is going great. I’m just taking my time and doing everything the right way so I can get back to being the Markelle I know I am.”
The Magic are still getting their chance to “wrap their arms around him” as Weltman said in discussing the trade last week. So it seems the Magic and Fultz’s team will monitor and assist in his rehab until they both agree it is time for him to play.
That could be this year still, it could be in the summer or it could wait until training camp next year. The Magic regardless seem comfortable waiting.
A palpable excitement
Still, the excitement for Fultz’s arrival is palpable. It has changed the outlook of the franchise in so many ways.
“It’s very rare that you get a chance to add a player of Markelle’s ability and character to your team,” Weltman said. “These days don’t happen very often. It’s a good day for the Magic and it means now we begin the work that goes into getting Markelle where he needs to be.”
There felt like there was some comfort as Fultz held up a Magic jersey for the first time. It was not the first time he wore one.
After the trade, a photo began circulating on social media and Fultz posted it to his Instagram story of him as a child wearing an old Magic jersey. He did not remember the story of his donning the old pinstripes.
Perhaps this was all meant to be.