Welcome to the Summer of Markelle Fultz.
At last season’s trade deadline, the Orlando Magic traded for former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz. They gave up very little in return — Jonathon Simmons, who was out of the rotation at the time, and a first round pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder that now seems very unlikely to convey.
The Magic have long sought an explosive playmaker capable of filling the roster’s consensus biggest hole at point guard. In Fultz, the Magic made a low-risk, potentially high-reward move, hoping the promise the Prince George’s County product built coming out of college was real.
Of course, Fultz is just that right now — potential. He has played in only 33 total games in two seasons and has struggled to stay on the court. He was finally diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in December and he has not stepped onto the court since. Everything he can do is theoretical at this point.
Publicly, the team set no timetable for Fultz to return. Magic staff and management have lauded his work ethic while tempering expectations. They just wanted him to get himself right. That has not stopped teammates from talking up the young acquisition and generating some excitement for what he could contribute to the team.
“I’ve seen Markelle’s work ethic and his seriousness about getting on the floor. I think that’s what going to pay off for him and that’s what’s going to make him the player that he is. He’s a great player. He had some unfortunate situations, but his mindset is to work through them.”
Once the commotion of the offseason ended, the possibilities from Fultz seemed like the biggest difference for a Magic team hoping to take its next step.
At best, he is an electrifying, almost sleepy playmaker with an intriguing all-around game. If he played up to his considerable potential, he could dramatically shift the franchise’s trajectory.
With the quiet of the offseason, then, the Magic speculation machine has run wild with Fultz. Fueling that machine is a mix of social media posts and interviews. Once these “developments” hit the public sphere, we get guesswork, followed by some more guesswork.
Common among that guesswork is the proclamation, of course, that Fultz is “back.” He is ready to return to the court! He is ready to be the dominant player he flashed in college!
And therein lies the rub with the speculation machine. All of the social media activity disguises itself as actual developments as to whether Fultz can meaningfully contribute to the Magic next season or even participate in training camp.
But in truth, we still do not know anything about Fultz’s actual ability to compete in NBA games. Coach Steve Clifford probably put it the plainest in July during an interview on NBATV at NBA Summer League: Fultz was not ready to play 5-on-5 basketball. Even that video that came out a few weeks ago was drill work and a far way away from playing actual live basketball.
In essence, the public knows the same amount about the answer to that all-important question that it did when Orlando first traded for him.