Orlando Magic should work fast to extend Jonathan Isaac

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac is eager to return to the practice facility and the court. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac is eager to return to the practice facility and the court. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic face many big decisions. None might be bigger than extending Jonathan Isaac’s contract. That is something they should attack now.

The next week for the Orlando Magic and the rest of the NBA is going to be a torrid one.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports the trade moratorium will be lifted Monday at noon. The NBA Draft takes place Wednesday. Bobby Marks of ESPN reports the deadlines for options — including Evan Fournier and James Ennis’ player options — will be Thursday. Free agency negotiations can “begin” on Friday. And signings can become official Monday.

From there, the team has two weeks to prepare for a Dec. 1 training camp and, apparently, some preseason games will take place a few weeks later. All that leading up to a Dec. 22 start to the season.

There is a lot to get to. A lot to get to.

Things are going to happen very quickly. And some big decisions regarding the Magic’s future — from what Fournier decides to do with his option, to the 15th pick in the draft, to any potential trades — will take place.

Everything will be settled before the regular season begins.

Among the checklist of things the Magic do to secure their future, is to take care of rookie extensions for their rookies from the 2017 NBA Draft. Teams have a Dec. 21 deadline to wrap those up.

Figuring out how to value both Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz is extremely difficult. Even in their four years in the league, they have painted an incomplete picture. Asking the Magic to make a four-year investment is both a no-brainer and an incredible risk.

The Magic likely want to re-sign both. But before their season begins, they should do everything in their power to put Jonathan Isaac under wraps. They should give him the security of a deal and make the long-term investment now rather than waiting for next offseason.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

There is undoubtedly risk in this. Isaac has been injured for much of his time with the Magic. And his stat lines do not immediately pop off the page.

But, even while Isaac recovers from a torn ACL, he remains the lone player on the team with elite NBA skill. And Isaac is very much a player the Magic want to be a foundational piece of whatever it is they are building into the future. Keeping him is essential to this plan.

And wrapping up Isaac now likely avoids having to pay more or letting him escape to an uncertain 2021 free-agent market. The Magic have the most cost control over Isaac now as he recovers but also the chance to prove their investment and belief in him while he recovers.

Extending Isaac now should be one of the key goals for this offseason for the Magic. It says nothing and something that Isaac was the model for the Magic’s unveiling of their City Edition jerseys, a uniform Isaac is not likely to wear on the court this year.

Figuring out how much to pay Isaac will be the biggest challenge. And certainly, that number could be all over the place.

Injury-filled career

Jonathan Isaac’s career stats so far are not too impressive. They do not immediately scream that Isaac should be a surefire extension candidate.

He is averaging 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game for his career. Last year was a career season, averaging 11.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.3 blocks per game. He shot 34.0-percent from beyond the arc, showing some improved confidence from beyond the arc.

Of course, all of that came in just 34 games. While Isaac has looked impressive on defense every time he is on the court, injuries have defined his career.

He sprained his ankle in his rookie year in 2018. The injury was more complicated than a simple sprain and the team acted with extreme caution in bringing him back. He played in only 27 games as a rookie.

He had a breakthrough 2019 season, playing in 75 games and becoming a key part of the team’s first playoff run in seven seasons. Everyone saw the promise.

Isaac built upon that season to start 2020. He posted impressive defensive numbers and put himself in a position to be in the running for an All-Defensive team if not Defensive Player of the Year.

But then he injured his knee — a posterolateral corner injury —  on Jan. 1 and was likely out for the rest of the season. The pandemic delay gave Isaac the time to fully recover and he retook the court inside the NBA campus. He looked as impressive as ever, shooting threes confidently and running the floor effectively.

Only that came crashing down as he tore his ACL in the second seeding round game. The Magic have essentially ruled him out for the entire 2021 season.

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  • If there is caution in trying to re-sign Isaac, it is that he has played only one full season in his four years under his rookie contract. That is hardly enough time to draw any conclusions about his future. If a player is what he will be by the end of his rookie contract, then Isaac has not given the Magic much information to go off of.

    But the truth is too that this is all the information the Magic will have. If they truly believe in Isaac and want him to be a part of the team’s future, no condition will change between now and next summer when he would enter restricted free agency (where the Magic would have the ability to match any offer he would receive).

    There is no sense in delaying this decision.

    They can give Isaac security and comfort as he rehabs from his injury. Orlando clearly has a lot of faith in Isaac. All their public discussions about Isaac in the aftermath of the injury exhibits confidence that he will return as good as ever.

    The Magic just have to put their money where that mouth is. If they truly have that confidence, taking care of an extension should be no problem. And without any more information to gather on the court, the Magic should be able to talk hard numbers quickly.

    Finding the market

    That is the part that would hold up any negotiations. How much do you commit to and invest in a player who has just one healthy year in his first four seasons in the NBA — including a major ACL injury?

    That part is difficult. The numbers really like Jonathan Isaac and his impact. Even if his raw and offensive stats have not caught up, there are a lot of reasons to like Isaac enough to pay him.

    John Hollinger of The Athletic put him as a “near-max” player in his contract formulations — setting his statistical market value at $30.4 million. He obviously will not make that much in light of his injury history.

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    Using a market value formula from Nylon Calculus, we calculated Isaac’s 2020 market value at just $11.4 million, although injury certainly played a role in depressing that amount. It was still enough to say Isaac outperformed his rookie contract.

    If these are the bounds for what kind of deal the Magic should offer, it does not make the picture any clearer for what the Magic ultimately will offer.

    A deal with Isaac likely ranges from a low of $17 million per year to a little north of $20 million. It seems safe to expect a four-year deal in the range of $70-85 million total.

    That is still a wide margin. And finding a middle ground will feature some tough negotiation, depending on what Isaac wants or how comfortable he is working without his future being settled.

    Even if re-signing Isaac is the common sense thing to do, it is still an incredible risk. Everyone is operating only on faith and not on past performance.

    This is a risk that could very well define Jeff Weltman’s tenure with the Magic. And more than likely the team will spend the first year of that contract letting Isaac recover and get back to full health — it usually takes a full year of playing for a player to fully recover from this major injury.

    There is a lot of lost time that cannot be made up. And financial decisions to make off incomplete information.

    There is no guarantee that this is a decision that is simple or will work. But it is one the Magic clearly have to make.

    At this point, they either believe in Isaac or they do not.

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    It should be clear they believe in him. And if that is the case, the Magic need to secure him now and take care of him. There is no sense in waiting and putting his future in limbo if the team believes in him that much.