Orlando Magic officially sign Chuma Okeke to rookie contract

The Orlando Magic will give unsigned rookie Chuma Okeke a year to recover and get healthy. (Photo by Sean Berry/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic will give unsigned rookie Chuma Okeke a year to recover and get healthy. (Photo by Sean Berry/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have officially signed Chuma Okeke to his rookie contract, adding a player the front office has been excited about for more than a year.

The Orlando Magic shocked much of the draft world when the team selected Auburn forward Chuma Okeke with the 16th pick in last year’s Draft.

To fans, the team seemed to need someone who could contribute quickly to a growing playoff team. Taking a player coming off a torn ACL who likely would miss the majority of the 2020 season, if not all of it outright, was a bit of a head-scratcher.

So too was the fact the team added a 6-foot-8 versatile forward who essentially played the same position as Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac (signing Al-Farouq Aminu to a three-year deal using the mid-level exception in the offseason only furthered the confusion).

After waiting a year to make things official, the Magic have officially signed their 2019 first round pick to his rookie contract. Chuma Okeke is now a member of the Magic.

There was no complaining about Okeke’s talent. He was a solid player at Auburn, averaging 12.0 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 38.7-percent on 3-pointers in his sophomore year in 2019. He was a key part of Auburn’s first-ever trip to the Final Four that year.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

That is until he tore his ACL in the Sweet Sixteen against North Carolina. Before the injury, he had scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 25 minutes.

Without the injury, Okeke likely would have been a lottery pick or taken around where the Magic were picking. With it, most projected him to fall to the latter half of the first round.

The Magic scooped him up with the 16th pick. And then the waiting began.

Okeke went through all the usual motions for a rookie. He had his introductory press conference the day after the Draft. He even went to the league’s Rookie Transition Program and got official photos taken in his Magic uniform. Okeke was included in the release version of NBA 2K20.

But he was taken out of the game within a few weeks. As training camps got set to open, Okeke remained unsigned and it was clear the Magic were planning to defer his rookie season. He was going to rehab with the Lakeland Magic with the hopes that he would play or practice with the team later in the season.

Indeed, when the G-League went on hiatus for the coronavirus pandemic, Okeke was starting to play 3-on-3 and do some live action work. He was not likely to play in the season, but he was inching closer to a return to the court.

He would sign his rookie contract in the 2020 offseason. And even that took longer than expected.

Finally, Okeke is a member of the Magic.

After more than a year of diligent work and waiting, Okeke can join the team. And that is a critical piece to his development puzzle.

"“Chuma has just been a robot,” Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said in a teleconference Monday morning before the Magic announced Okeke’s signing. “He has been a machine. He is working his tail off as well. We’re at the point now that we are hopeful we can execute a contract shortly [that happened a few hours later]. Once that happens, then he will be able to fully participate in all the activities. It has been a long time since he played and we need to integrate him into live activities.”"

Okeke has been able to do some rehab inside the Magic’s training facility. Jonathan Isaac said he had seen Chuma Okeke in the practice facility as he started his own rehab for his torn ACL. But since he was not under contract he could not work with coaches or participate in any team activities — such as observing practices.

Now the Magic can begin to fully integrate Okeke into the team. And there will not be much time to lose with training camp set to open Dec. 1 — a mere two weeks away.

The Magic are likely to remain fairly cautious with Okeke, as they are with all returning players from major injuries. He may not be ready to play right when the season begins, especially considering he has not played competitive basketball since March 2019 — 20 months ago!

But Okeke is still considered a big piece to the puzzle. Magic officials have been excited to welcome him into the fold.

Next. Evan Fournier opting in was first piece of offseason puzzle. dark

Now they finally can.