Orlando Magic should stay patient with Jonathan Isaac’s return

Jonathan Isaac is inching back to his return for the Orlando Magic as he returned to the court and traveling with the team. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
Jonathan Isaac is inching back to his return for the Orlando Magic as he returned to the court and traveling with the team. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

Jonathan Isaac is back with the Orlando Magic on the road and doing some on-court work. He should not be rushed back for the playoffs and stick to his work.

As the Orlando Magic celebrated their big win over the Brooklyn Nets, Aaron Gordon jumped over toward the Magic’s bench. He had a spring in his step and came up toward an old friend waiting to celebrate and greet him.

They gave a muted chest bump. Nobody could risk a whole lot more.

Jonathan Isaac was back on the Magic’s bench for the first time since his injury Jan. 1 against the Washington Wizards. He was traveling with the team and getting some light work in. Jonathan Isaac is making progress in his return.

According to the original timetable the Magic gave shortly after they announced he had a posterior lateral corner injury and medial bone contusion in his left knee, Isaac was set to be re-evaluated near the end of February. It is still unclear when Isaac will be back.

He only recently rejoined the team on the bench — players with certain injuries are kept off the bench to make sure they do not get run into by players diving toward the bench, etc. And Isaac is no longer on crutches. He is walking around with a brace over his knee still — you might notice that brace over his knee as he shoots free throws in the video above.

All this is to say, there are public signs of Isaac taking steps (literal in this case) to return to the court.

"“I want to be back right now,’’ Isaac told John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com and the media in Brooklyn on Monday. “The goal is that I want to be back right now, so that keeps me pushing and taking care of it day by day. . . .  I’m not completely sure (about playing again this season). I just want to continue to be wise, listen to the coaching staff and what management is thinking and then move accordingly.”"

Nobody has officially ruled Isaac out for the rest of the season. Even Isaac is hedging his bets he will be back.

Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman updated Jonathan Isaac’s progress just after the trade deadline and continued his stance that the team will not rush his return. They view the long-term game with him and do not want to risk further injury or his potential development during the summer by bringing him back to soon.

The playoffs are important for the Magic this year, but they also understand that playing as the 7- or 8-seed is not a major accomplishment to push all their chips into the center.

Many interpreted Weltman’s comments to mean Isaac would not return for the rest of the season. But that was never explicitly stated. There is still a chance he returns this season.

Certainly, the Magic will want Isaac to hit every benchmark for an eventual return. They are not going to rush him back to make some artificial deadline. If Isaac is not ready for the end of the regular season, the Magic are fine with that.

They are right not to rule him out for the season. But they continue to be right not to put a timeline for his return either.

Even though Isaac is slated to get re-evaluated within the next few weeks (and perhaps making Isaac available to the media with his return to traveling with the team is the public portion of that re-evaluation), the Magic should not put another timetable on his return.

Orlando should not be looking to rush Isaac back to the court. The team needs to keep the long-term picture for him in mind. A playoff appearance or dropping in for the playoff run is not nearly as important as his long-term health and physical confidence.

Isaac undoubtedly would help the team.

His statistics are fairly modest, but still the best of his career. Isaac is averaging 12.0 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. More impressively, he averaged 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals per game. He was leading the league in “stocks” at the time of his injury.

The Magic had a 105.2 defensive rating with Isaac on the floor. The team had a +0.3 net rating with Jonathan Isaac on the floor — only D.J. Augustin has a better mark so far this season.

All those numbers trend in the right direction for Isaac.

The team has missed a defensive element since his injury. The team needs a better rim protector and Isaac was someone who teams had to be aware of defensively in a way that other players simply do not. Isaac might be the one player on the team who is elite at an important NBA skill.

He was well on his way to getting named to his first All-Defensive team. He undoubtedly will get that opportunity next season when he returns to the court.

The Magic in needing to get to the 7-seed could certainly use him. He would have helped turn a few games in the Magic’s favor and perhaps helped solidify a defense that has been wildly inconsistent since Jan. 1 — 10th in the league in defensive rating since Jan. 2, 2020.

But there is no rush. The Magic aim to have Isaac around for the next 10 years. There is no rush to get the 21-year-old back onto the court. And there absolutely should not be.

It appears Isaac is at the beginnings of his return to the court. He is not moving or jumping around in the video. He is merely shooting free throws and other set shots.

Talk of a return is premature.

The Magic will surely be measuring his progress. There are seven weeks left in the NBA season. It might align for Isaac to be ready at the very end of the season with the chance of his return for the playoffs.

Orlando should stick to its recovery plan. These “deadlines” and this timetable is not the one the Magic should work with for Isaac.

Next. Steve Clifford always instructing as he looks for answers. dark

The important thing for Isaac is to be healthy and ready to play. Rushing back for a playoff run remains low on the priority list.