The Orlando Magic are preparing to enter the next phase and head to Disney next week. Returning to the gym remains an ongoing process in the league’s return.
In the first half of the Orlando Magic’s game against the Miami Heat, Evan Fournier went diving after a loose ball and seemingly hyperextended his elbow. He was clearly in pain but soldiered through the rest of the game.
The Magic would officially diagnose him with a sprained UCL and he would miss the next three games — all Magic wins in offensive romps. It looked like Fournier would miss an extended period of time. It was not entirely clear when the Magic might expect one of their top scorers and best shooters back.
Then the hiatus hit. The league went on pause.
Fournier, along with other injured Magic players, had to discontinue their rehab shortly after as the NBA closed down every practice facility. All they could do was wait.
All any player could do was wait and do the best they can to stay in shape and stay ready before the league let them back in.
Returning to the court was an uncertain prospect. Nobody knew when they would be able to get back on the court again.
“These last couple of months have been kind of crazy,” Markelle Fultz said in a ZOOM conference with media Monday. “I’ve just been sticking to what I know which is to work as hard as you can and just think about the positive and have fun. I’ve been working extremely hard, running, getting into the best shape that I can with the resources that I have.”
Almost immediately, the NBA announced it would put everything on pause until at least May 1 and then re-evaluate things from there.
There was still optimism that the worst of things were happening now and the nation would be able to get control over the virus fairly quickly. Everyone went into a sort of holding pattern.
They did what they could from home. But it was not the same as being in the gym.
Getting back to work has been a long, methodical process.
Some time to recover
The track of how players had to think about this temporary hiatus is really seen in how Evan Fournier handled it after his injury.
Fournier said initially he took the time to rest and stay at home. He was obviously nursing an injury. And so the time off gave him the chance to fully heal and recover.
Everyone else also seemed to take some time to decompress. But quickly players got restless and sought ways to stay in some shape for whenever they got called back to work.
Markelle Fultz said he quickly bought his own basketball hoop to try to keep up with his basketball skills. He would go on two-mile jogs around his neighborhood.
Nikola Vucevic said he would wake up early in the morning to hop on his Peleton to try to keep a normal workout routine while there was not much access to anything.
Fournier would go running outside. He bought a rower once he was healthy to add another cardio element. Like most players, he started working with free weights and the equipment the Magic provided pretty soon after.
Fournier said he put a lot of focus on bodyweight exercises. Throughout the hiatus, Fournier showed off some of his at-home workout routines on social media involving a lot of bodyweight exercises. Something he has continued as he moved back into the AdventHealth Practice Facility.
Of course, they could not do everything. Fultz said one of the drawbacks was the training facility was closed for treatment.
All they could do was contact the training staff via video conference. That at least gave them some direction to continue rehabbing and getting healthier.
For players like Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier and Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu, their rehab and treatment were slowed by the team facilities slowing down. When the practice facility finally reopened, there were reports Fournier was not fully healed.
It was not an emergency by any means. He was healing on his own rather than getting the boost of added strength training.
But none of this was actually structure and organized basketball. This was all just players trying to stay active and trying to keep themselves in some shape.
Reopening the facility
When the league was preparing to reopen their training facilities, players who were dealing with injuries were allowed to enter the building sooner. Fournier was among the first to be back in the building.
This was when things really started to ramp up and get serious.
Teams could start working on specific programs. Not to mention players could actually work on basketball skills once again with coaches watching and helping them. Fultz said going back to driveway basketball made him feel like a kid again. But there is a seriousness and control to playing in the pristine gyms NBA teams provide.
But everyone knows this is not enough. Getting some shots up and doing individual work is only half the story.
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Nobody can simulate game speed. At this point, players are just trying to get in as best of shape as they can before camp begins.
Everyone is itching to get the real games started.
“We’ve been working out for the better part of 6, 7, 8 weeks,” Terrence Ross said in a ZOOM conference Thursday. “It’s not like we’re completely out of shape. Nothing really prepares you for that basketball shape except for games. I think we’re fine.
“We’re getting a lot of work here right now. It’s great seeing everybody around and old faces come back. It’s been good.”
The ramp-up to camp
Players have been inside the Amway Center for several weeks now. Workouts involve individual work with an assistant coach and basic shooting and skills drills. More importantly for many of these players, they have access to the state-of-the-art weight equipment inside the weight room.
There are still limitations on the number of players who can be in the gym at the same time and the work they can do fully. There are still home workout videos getting posted throughout the league.
But the players know things are ramping up now. There is just one final stage to get to.
“Once the gym reopened, it’s a totally different ball game,” Evan Fournier said during a media conference Thursday. “You start working out, you start shooting and have a precise program. I think my conditioning right now is good for what we have. We don’t do contact stuff. Our conditioning is not going to be great. That’s something we are looking at once we are inside that bubble to get to game shape. We’ll be all right.”
That will not happen until the final phase of the league’s return takes place. And that will occur beginning next week at Disney when teams begin to arrive.
After a brief quarantine to ensure everyone within the bubble has tested negative for COVID-19 twice, teams will begin to take part in training camp — their first contact practices.
Almost every player would agree that once this happens, then the season really begins. That is when everyone will find out if they are really in shape and ready for the season.
“It’s been different,” Markelle Fultz said during a ZOOM conference Monday. “It is starting to ramp back up. Like coach said, just getting the ball in my hand and getting up as many shots as I can and getting that rhythm back of getting in the gym. As soon as we get the chance to work out as a team, getting that chemistry together as a team.”
Coach Steve Clifford said it will be a slow ramp-up. They will treat early practices more like their September optional workouts. How that goes will dictate how quickly the team can dive into something looking more like a normal practice.
Clifford said Tuesday he was pleased with where his players were physically and with their conditioning all things considered. But he will not know where players are physically until the team can get together and play competitive basketball again.
There is still a lot to manage. And there is still a bit longer to go in this return to the court process.
Everyone is eager to get back to play, though. As they have been at each stage of this return.
Now it is on to the next part of the checklist.