Orlando Magic don’t need concrete date to see Markelle Fultz’s progress

Everyone is excited for Markelle Fultz's potential still. But seeing him on a basketball court is still rare. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Everyone is excited for Markelle Fultz's potential still. But seeing him on a basketball court is still rare. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Orlando Magic general manager John Hammond remained coy about Markelle Fultz’s return. But it is clear progress is getting made toward a return.

There is a game that seems to spring up among Orlando Magic fans at the moment.

Any bit or rumor of Markelle Fultz‘s progress and proximity to returning to the court is met with hushed excitement. There is such precious little information about Markelle Fultz and his recovery that fans are eager to see if their hopes are close to coming true or whether they should reset their expectations.

This happened late Sunday when fans posted a Snapchat story purportedly from Fultz’s account that showed him displaying an array of dribbling moves. It was never really confirmed if this was Fultz reposting some workout that he made earlier or if this was something recent.

Either way, it served as a reminder of how talented and skilled Fultz is with the basketball in his hands. Even last year with the Philadelphia 76ers, Fultz was fairly effective, averaging 8.2 points per game and 3.1 assists per game. He posted 5.0 assists per 36 minutes (down from more than seven the year before, but still a solid number).

Fultz could still attack and get to the basket and his free throw percentage even ticked up, despite the thoracic outlet syndrome hampering his shot and causing his funky form. But it was also clear because of his poor jumper and his general movement that something was not right.

He rightfully took a step away from basketball to get himself healthy.

As the Magic have waited out his recovery, they have said very little about any progress he is making except to say he is making it. They refuse to put a timetable on his recovery. Their patience has been saintly.

And in all those videos Magic fans have seen of Fultz, waiting with every breath, there is not one shot of his jumper or anything like that. Really the only thing Fultz regularly posts to his Instagram story are first-person shots of his feet inside the Magic locker room.

The plain fact is the public has not seen him on the court. And the Magic are not about to let loose or put any undue pressure on him to step out either.

The team released its Summer League roster on Tuesday. As expected, Fultz was not included on the roster. During exit interviews, president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said they did not feel like Fultz needed the extra reps on court and that there was little for him to gain playing in that environment.

The Magic are hoping to build up his confidence and comfort as much as his physical well-being.

This, of course, means the soonest the Magic might see Fultz on the floor is training camp (or thereabouts) and the team’s preseason debut on Oct. 5 in San Antonio.

Whether that will be the day Fultz first wears a Magic jersey on the court is the big mystery. A mystery the team is not prepared to answer — or reveal — quite yet, as general manager John Hammond updated on In The Zone on 96.9 The Game in Orlando on Monday:

"“Overall, I can say he is doing well,” Hammond said. “The most important thing for him right now is one, he is in the gym, and two, he has energy with him. Those two things are really important.“He is working extremely hard. He is in good shape. His weight is good. His overall body fat percentage is very good. It’s just a matter of him continuing to get more comfortable, continuing to get himself in a position to step on the floor and help us.“We have no idea when that is going to be. We hope much sooner than later. But, once again, we try to do this the best we can and that is to have that word of patience. That is not easy for a lot of people. We look at Markelle and he just turned 21 less than a month ago. We want to have patience with him and put him on the court when he can be most productive.”"

John Hammond also provided an update on Mohamed Bamba‘s progress — he will be on the Summer League roster and play a few games, but is ready to play and has added lots of strength this offseason –and a bit of a glimpse at free agency.

But, like everything with Fultz, it is the mystery of where Fultz is at that has had the Internet running wild. The line the Magic do not know quite when Fultz will be ready drew the most headlines — feeding a narrative that nobody really knows what is going on with Fultz.

The only uncertainty about when Fultz will hit the court is to the public. Surely the Magic know where Fultz is at and are keeping that information internal.

As Hammond described, Fultz is putting in the work to keep his body ready to play. It seems he probably could step on the court now if he was comfortable doing so. His production this past season with the 76ers suggests he could still contribute something.

But there was a reason he stepped away. And he wants to make sure he gets himself right so he can be at his best. The Magic want that for him too.

Orlando’s posture has always been to make sure when Fultz returns it will be a return for good. A return that will not feature fits and starts or resets.

They know that for Fultz to develop into the player they think he can become, he will need consistent interaction on the court. And if he is constantly having to pause to manage pain, then that will not work.

Orlando is not about to rush that recovery process.

There may be the aim to get Fultz back before camp. But Orlando will not admit that publicly or set that as a hard deadline. They want Fultz’s body to respond naturally so that he can get that longevity on the court.

That much is clear. The Magic are playing coy with information to try to manage expectations somewhat — Fultz has played only 33 total games so he is essentially still a rookie in the league.

The only thing that seems fairly evident is Fultz is inching closer to a return. He has put in a ton of work to keep himself in shape and go through physical therapy. That is very clear.

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But when he might actually return to the court remains a closely guarded secret or completely unknown.