Orlando Magic still playing catch up as roster becomes whole

James Ennis returned to the Orlando Magic after clearing quarantine. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
James Ennis returned to the Orlando Magic after clearing quarantine. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic got James Ennis back after he cleared quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test. He and the team are still playing catch-up.

The Orlando Magic traveled to the Disney campus knowing it was going to be a difficult task to get themselves ready for the season. Players had been off for nearly four months and there was always going to be a level of fitness and conditioning they were chasing. It almost feels impossible to reach that level in the short time before games begin.

The league is essentially demanding each team go through an entire offseason within the course of a few weeks before playing the most important games of its season.

It feels like everyone is trying to play catch up.

No one more so than players like James Ennis or Markelle Fultz, who joined the campus setting late whether for personal reasons or because they tested positive for COVID-19.

While many of the Magic’s players were out having fun in their first day off since entering the campus, James Ennis was only just clearing quarantine after entering the campus.

Ennis said he was the player who tested positive for COVID-19 and could not be with the team in the early days of the Disney campus. He said he experienced a headache for 4-5 days and that he was throwing up the first few days. He said he was in quarantine for two weeks, separated even from his family.

Now that he has been cleared, he is trying to catch up and get his wind and rhythm back.

"“It’s tough not being able to work out and prepare for this bubble,” Ennis said in a media teleconference Wednesday. “I’m just happy to be back on the court. Trying to get my legs back under me and get back in rhythm.”"

There are still a lot of unknown long-term effects of COVID-19. The world will certainly be watching to see how players who have recovered from the disease will fare in a return to physical activity — especially physical activity like playing a basketball game.

For now, Ennis is focused on getting himself back in playing shape and back integrated with the team. The Magic’s training staff will surely be watching him closely to make sure he can get through that process.

He will not be completely alone.

The Magic have also been without Markelle Fultz since entering the Disney campus as he dealt with an undisclosed personal issue. The NBA knew about this issue and excused his absence, subjecting him to a shorter four-day quarantine upon entry onto the campus.

Josh Robbins of The Athletic reports Fultz entered the NBA’s campus at Disney and will be able to rejoin the team after clearing his initial quarantine.

That will be good news. It gives Fultz at least a few practices before the scrimmages begin — although he certainly does not have to play in the first scrimmage or anywhere near his regular minutes as he gets himself back into playing shape.

Ennis may have more to catch up than most. While he has already played 12 games with the team, he was only just getting into rhythm and finding his footing with the Magic when the season went on hiatus.

Now he experienced a two-week break in his preparation. The experience of quarantine was somewhat isolating too.

Ennis though has quickly integrated himself with the team. He said a lot of players reached out to him including Michael Carter-Williams and Mohamed Bamba. He stayed in touch with teammates through their group chat.

Carter-Williams said he was happy to see his friend Ennis back on the court. It will be up to teammates to make sure Ennis and eventually Fultz get brought along and reintegrated back into the group, especially with games starting so soon.

"“I think it’s important for us to be upbeat and have things down so they can come in and have a baseline of where we are at and kind of push them to get to that level,” Carter-Williams said in a teleconference with media Wednesday. “They are going to need our help to get back into rhythm and get back to speed. The farther along we are, the easier it is for us to lead them back to full strength. They are important guys on our team.”"

The Magic certainly need Ennis. He helped the team make a bit of its offensive spark and move Aaron Gordon full-time to the power forward position.

Ennis is a solid defender and runs the floor well. He can hit an outside shot when left open. The Magic will absolutely need him to keep a balanced roster — let alone for depth — once the season resumes.

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But the short-term focus is on getting him and all the other players back up to speed with the team and reintegrated with the team. Ennis will be playing catch-up as much as anyone else. And time is starting to run out.

The team will play its first scrimmage next Wednesday. And it is still hard to say whether the team is on track to make that anything more than a first preseason game if that.

Coach Steve Clifford said the team had an energetic practice after a sluggish start, which was to be expected following a day off and an odd 8:30 a.m. practice time. But even after a week of practice, it is hard to say what the team will look like when they play for the first time.

"“We’re not close to training camp yet,” Clifford said in a teleconference after Wednesday’s practice. “These early games are always a bit of a crapshoot in our league. This experience will be even more so. I think people have to understand, these guys went 9-10 weeks without playing basketball. They never do that in an offseason. We’re quite a ways away from where we’d be in a normal training camp situation.”"

So it will not just be Ennis and Fultz trying to catch up then. Everyone is still trying to play catch up. And they are just hoping to be ready enough when the season begins.

Everyone is trying to get back to where they were in March. And that will continue to be a theme and a process throughout the camp.

Every team in the league is in something of a race against time. They are all trying to be as ready as they can for the season to resume. July 31 will come about quickly for the Magic.

It all starts with getting through this first step and getting through practice. For Ennis, that meant stepping on the floor for the first time and beginning that process.

"“I definitely lost my wind,” Ennis said in a teleconference with media on Wednesday. “I’m rusty, honestly. I got to shake the rust off of me. I have to do the little things to get my body right. I’m ready. I’m here. My focus is at 100. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get back to prior to me having the COVID.”"

Next. Jonathan Isaac taking return day by day. dark

The Magic will soon have their complete roster. And they hope that they can make up as much ground as possible before the games start in two weeks.