Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac taking return day by day

Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic shoots over Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic shoots over Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Jonathan Isaac is making progress in his return from his knee injury. He is back on the court for a part of practice and taking his return day by day.

The Orlando Magic have taken the posture throughout the league’s hiatus that they will prepare to finish their season without Jonathan Isaac. They will not assume he will be ready to play or able to contribute much to the team.

The posterior lateral corner injury he suffered to his left knee on New Years’ Day was not necessarily a season-ending injury. The Magic and Jonathan Isaac had to wait to let it heal on its own. Shortly after diagnosis, they gave a 6-8 week period before they would re-evaluate it.

Time has put a lot of players in play for the resumption of the season that might not have otherwise been there. Players are essentially returning to the season fully healthy.

As the delay from the coronavirus pandemic continued, everyone began to wonder whether Isaac would be able to make a return. As the most promising of the Magic’s young prospects, there was certainly a hunger to see him back on the floor.

Isaac indeed joined the team in the campus setting — a strange choice to use one of the 35 spots at Disney on a player who otherwise would not be able to play. While Isaac is still far from playing, he has made significant progress. Undeniably significant progress.

That door still remains open, it seems. Even if it is just a crack.

Isaac is simply taking everything day by day as he tries to get himself back to the court.

"“I have no reservations in my mind about it, if I’m ready to play and I get the clearance, I’m ready to go,” Isaac said after practice Monday. “I’m taking it day by day. I’m listening to our front office and the guys who are working with me each day to get there. I’m feeling good. I’m getting there. I’m optimistic about my chances.”"

What Isaac is doing in practice is still somewhat limited. He is participating in any non-contact drills the team is doing. That means he is running up and down the floor and shooting jumpers at full speed. However, he is not doing any contact play — so he is not part of the team’s 5-on-5 scrimmages or their 3-on-3 work from earlier in practice.

Jonathan Isaac is working however with coach Mike Batiste and Rick Higgins. They are doing some contact — banging him with pads, etc. — to get him ready to return to the court.

It is a big step forward form where he was in March to be sure when he was not moving around or jumping much.

But it is not clear when he might take that final leap back into the lineup.

"“First of all, it’s just great having him around,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Monday. “He’s a great person and he’s a great teammate. He is the kind of guy who brings a lot of positives to your group even if he is not playing. In terms of if he will be ready, we are not going to know that for two or three weeks. He is not able to play 5-on-5 yet. He has made great progress, he’s a terrific worker. I couldn’t say enough good things about him. But it will be difficult to know for a couple more weeks whether he will be able to play.”"

Clifford said the medical staff was pleased with how Isaac has come through his early bouts with physical play. But the team still wants to make sure it goes step by step and remains careful in its decisions with Isaac.

The plan then is still not to count on Isaac returning. The Magic want him to recover on his own time. They have a long-term vision in mind. And it is hard to imagine the Magic accomplishing a whole lot in the campus setting aside from clinching a second-straight playoff berth.

It has been a long journey to recover from this injury, interrupted by the pandemic.

If Isaac was going to come back, it likely would not be until late March or early April. By early March, Isaac was traveling back with the team and doing some light work on the court — mostly set shots and no running. Things were progressing, even if he was not going to return by the end of the season.

Then the hiatus hit. Isaac got four months to heal fully. But he did not have the same access to the gym to rebuild his basketball skills and get back into basketball shape.

President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman continually said they were planning to play without him. The door seemed to remain slightly open, even if it was unlikely Isaac would be able to walk through it.

Isaac said he feels good and he seems eager to be back even doing what he is doing with his teammates. Clifford has tried to keep him engaged the same way he kept Mohamed Bamba engaged during his injury last year watching tape and creating scouting reports.

Clifford has largely been impressed with the team’s progress and organization through the first week of practice. He said the first week of practice has been about trying to get the team back into rhythm and build up their conditioning again.

The progress is still slow. Monday, the Magic played

From that sense, it appears the first week was a success. But nobody really knows how far the group has come as a whole until they play that first scrimmage next Wednesday.

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And that goes for Isaac too. For now, his recovery and whether he will play will be a day-by-day process.