The Orlando Magic cemented two pillars of their future in agreeing to extensions with Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz. The future is coming into focus.
This offseason, Orlando Magic fans waited patiently for the team to make its future clearer.
The team had established a foundation and made the playoffs two straight years. That was the standard, but no longer the expectation. Fans never want to sit still and a championship is supposed to be the goal. The team had to take steps there.
This offseason was spent staying quiet. The Magic focused on their long-term future rather than their short-term future. All the while trying to maintain their place in the current Eastern Conference picture.
The future comes no matter what. The team would have to make their move and cement their future. They had to take that step and invest in themselves in the right way.
Consider Monday’s news the first step in that process.
The Magic wrapped up their biggest task of the offseason, re-signing both Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac on Monday, helping them avoid restricted free agency this offseason as their rookie contracts come to a close.
The Magic announced both signings in a press release Monday.
"“We are thrilled to keep both Markelle [Fultz] and Jonathan [Isaac] in a Magic uniform,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said in a press release. “They both have a very bright future and they mean a lot to our organization, both on and off the court.”"
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports Markelle Fultz will sign a three-year, $50-million deal. While Josh Robbins of The Athletic adds the third year will be a team option, a small hedge on his overall health as he continues to work back and prove himself after missing the first two seasons of his career with thoracic outlet syndrome.
The Magic also agreed to a four-year, $80-million extension with Jonathan Isaac, giving him some security as he rehabs from a torn ACL.
Both Fultz and Isaac represent key pieces to the Magic’s future and extreme risks. These are investments in the team’s future. Necessary investments too but risks because of how unproven both players are.
Orlando has now tied at least its immediate future to these two players. And how far and how good the Magic can become will likely depend on how these two players will develop, particularly Isaac now.
The $20 million threshold
That $20-million-per-year threshold is a big one that is usually only reserved for the team’s biggest stars — on the Orlando Magic’s current cap sheet, only Nikola Vucevic has a salary north of that mark.
With Jonathan Isaac and his injury history so far, that is a considerable risk. But they are banking on him reaching his All-Defensive Team potential. He is truly one of the only players on the roster that can do something at an elite level.
Last year, Isaac averaged 11.9 points per game on a 51.8-percent effective field goal percentage. It was his first time seeing his effective field goal percentage top the 50-percent mark and his offensive game still had a long way to go. Coach Steve Clifford lamented his inability to get him more involved.
But it was his defense that truly took a huge leap.
Jonathan Isaac was averaging 2.3 blocks and 1.6 steals per game, easily leading the league in “stocks” (Anthony Davis had 3.8 steals and blocks combined). He was a terror on that end, amassing a +2.9 defensive box plus-minus and 1.9 defensive win shares in just 34 games, according to Basketball-Reference.
It is those 34 games that are the concern.
Swarm and Sting
Isaac missed the majority of his rookie season in 2018 with a sprained ankle that the team was cautious bringing him back from. After playing the entire 2019 season as the team’s starter, Isaac got off to his strong start this year, only to succumb to a freak knee injury on Jan. 1.
The posterolateral corner injury he suffered against the Washington Wizards was random and likely would have kept him out for the rest of the season. But the pandemic hiatus gave him time to recover and he returned to the court inside the bubble and looked impressive, showing surprising confidence as a jump shooter.
That too was cut short when he tore his ACL in the Magic’s second game, taking the wind completely out of the sails of a team that seemed to brim with confidence and extra energy.
Isaac will miss the entire 2021 season, meaning the Magic signed Isaac to a lucrative four-year deal with just one full season under his belt.
That is a considerable risk. He now takes his place as one of the most important players on the Magic without any knowledge of whether he will recover or not.
The Magic essentially had nothing else to debate with Isaac when it came to contract negotiations. All the information was already set.
Orlando is pinning its future on Isaac’s ability to regain his former prowess on the defensive end and continue to grow from there. At just 23 years old, there is optimism he can do that. ACL injuries are not death sentences at all.
But there is now a lot of weight on his shoulders.
There will also be a weight on Markelle Fultz’s shoulders too. The Orlando Magic acquired Fultz as a second-draft prospect as he struggled to get healthy and his relationship with the Philadelphia 76ers soured completely in the 2019 season.
Orlando showed plenty of patience letting the former top-overall pick recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, letting Fultz go through a process he was comfortable with and helping where they could.
The team got the news he would be ready to play a few weeks before training camp last year and the rest seems to be history.
The Sixer Sense
Fultz quickly established himself as the team’s starting point guard, taking over the starting duties after the fifth game of the season. He averaged 12.1 points and 5.1 assists per game. He shot 46.5-percent from the field, although he still was worse than 30-percent from beyond the arc.
The Magic liked the pace Fultz had the team playing at and he made some incredible plays to push the Magic back into the playoffs.
Fultz was playing his rookie year. And the team is expecting him to take a major step forward in what is essentially his second year.
Still, this is precious little information.
Fultz had a good “rookie” season last year, but nothing that blows anyone away. There are still doubts about whether Fultz can take that step forward and he likely will never fulfill his promise that comes with being the top overall pick.
The Magic are paying him as a solid starter now at something around $16 million per year. He could easily surpass that or he could continue to play at the level he is playing at now.
Risk exists for both these players. And the Magic hedged a bit with the team option on Fultz’s third year. They will get a chance to see him play and decide if they need to change course — at about the time they will have to make a real financial decision on Cole Anthony, at that.
Either way, the Magic’s future will almost certainly include both Isaac and Fultz. Orlando is betting on their continued growth and ability to anchor the team.
Orlando’s future is coming into focus then. Two key pieces are in place. And now the Magic will move forward with that picture a bit clearer.