Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz have put their faith in themselves and the Orlando Magic early on. Now the Magic have put their faith in them.
Markelle Fultz’s mantra has become ubiquitous to his followers on his social media.
#F2G. Faithful to the grind.
That has been a motto that has kept Markelle Fultz going through a lot of uncertainty in his young career. Through not being able to get on the floor because of a shoulder injury that no one seemed able to diagnose. Through a franchise that traded up to take him with the first overall pick ultimately giving up on him and shuttling him off for very little.
When Fultz arrived in Orlando, he could not possibly know what to expect. And in the darkest moments of his rehab, Fultz said there was doubt that he would get to the end of his rookie contract or even to a second contract extension.
His time with the Orlando Magic has changed everything. The team welcomed him with open arms, trusted him to get himself healthy and right and then reaped the rewards with a starter-quality first season in 2019.
That was enough to convince them to put their faith in Fultz. His effort and tenacity and belief in himself paid off with a three-year, $50-million extension.
"“It just shows how much belief they have in me,” Fultz said after practice Tuesday. “Starting back from when they traded for me and taking a chance with that. That’s been one thing that has always made me feel comfortable since I have been here. The way we talk to the front office, the coaching staff and even the players. Really having an open conversation and being honest with each, it made it real comfortable for me.”"
Fultz averaged 12.1 points per game and 5.1 assists per game, taking over the starting point guard role within the first month of the season. It was clear the kind of impact he made and their patience and faith in his recovery more than paid off.
Now the Magic, after believing in his potential enough to give him the space to get better are doubling down on that bet. They believe he will take the same kind of leap that players typically take after their first seasons in the NBA.
It allows him to put the focus back on the court. That is the goal for this season for him. As Jeff Weltman put it at the end of the 2020 season, the goal for Markelle Fultz now is to move past his injury and discuss him as a basketball player without that injury context.
Still, this moment was meaningful for Fultz because of how far he had to go. None of this was certain.
"“Especially with everything I have been through in my life, it is not the normal path,” Fultz said after practice Tuesday. “To be able to be where I’m at today to be able to sign an extension with all I have been through and all the hard work I have put into it, it isn’t over. I believe it is just getting started. Last year was my first full year playing. To be able to come back into the arena feeling comfortable and knowing they believe in me as much as I believe in myself. It just makes it that much easier to play my game and do what I have on my mind every day.”"
Jonathan Isaac’s path has been a walk of faith and belief too.
The Orlando Magic signed Jonathan Isaac to a four-year, $80-million despite him playing only one healthy season during his rookie contract. He will miss the entire 2021 season after tearing his ACL in August during the seeding round.
Isaac has had to deal with a lot of injuries early on in his career. But his hard work and determination has brought him back better each time.
He came back from a severe ankle sprain in his rookie season to lock down a starting spot and help build a top-10 defense that ended Orlando’s playoff drought in 2019. He was having all-defensive team-caliber year before his first knee injury cut his season short.
It is no sure thing then that Isaac will live up to this contract. His average salary on the reported terms of the deal are verging on star territory, creating weighty expectations for when Isaac returns.
The Magic have tied a significant part of their future to him. But like the faith that Isaac has shown with his positive outlook after so many injuries and his determination to return after each one, the Magic are showing their faith in him in return.
"“I think if they didn’t have belief in me, they made a really bad decision,” Isaac said after practice Tuesday. “It obviously shows they care a lot about me first to draft me. Not everybody gets to be extended and to be part of this group that has. To be part of this organization means everything to me. I love that they have belief in me. They have it because I have belief in myself.”"
Isaac is continuing his rehab largely away from his teammates. That is how it is going to be this year. He is working on his own to rehab, still attending parts of practice and home games. He said the coaching staff will set up sessions with him to review tape and stay engaged with the team’s preparations throughout the season.
Isaac said he is already pulling weight on a sled four months after his injury. And he joked he peppered Chuma Okeke with questions about how he progressed in hopes of beating his marks.
It will be tough to be away from the team. But Isaac is putting his work in on the side.
The Magic believe fully he will be back. And they certainly put financial backing to that belief.
The Orlando Magic put financial backing behind the belief that both Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac will be key parts of the team’s future. They clearly see both as future starters and potentially All-Stars as they try to grow out from their consecutive playoff berths and hope to advance higher up the Eastern Conference ladder.
Both of these players represent a now-significant part of the team’s future. They are certainly the future captains and leaders of this team.
"“I think they are two terrific young players,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Tuesday. “They bring a lot to a franchise besides being good players. They are both high character. They bring intangibles to the team. I enjoy coaching both of them. I think it’s good for everybody.”"
Just how far they and their team will go will depend on how they develop and how much better they get.
They have their futures secured. But Isaac was still in the building to do his rehab and get back to full health. Fultz is eager to get his season started and build off last year’s success.
They both have to prove their worth all over again.
Isaac may not be on the floor this year to prove that point. But Fultz certainly will.
The team has seemingly been absolutely giddy about his progress and his potential for the upcoming season. He showed that in his first two preseason games at least, finishing the four games averaging 14.0 points per game on 43.4-percent shooting with 30.0-percent shooting from beyond the arc in 27.3 minutes per game. he averaged 4.5 assists per game.
But it was the way he controlled the tempo of those games and picked his spots to attack, run and organize that stood out most. It is yet to be seen how much this will translate to the regular season and how much he has grown.
The work though certainly has not stopped to prove his place in the league after last year’s successful rookie run.
"“You’ve got to work for anything you want in life,” Fultz said after practice Tuesday. ‘It feels good when you work extremely hard for something and you start to see some of that roll into your favor and you start to achieve some of those goals that you write down. It’s just more fuel to the fire. The job is not done yet.”"
When players move off their rookie contracts, the expectations and pressures change. Fans can truly and fully say now that both Fultz and Isaac are key parts of the team’s future.
Orlando made a sizable investment and faith believing they could deliver.
If their history is any indication, they are already working to reward that faith.