Orlando Magic: Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac grinding to return from injury

Markelle Fultz does not like to think too much about the past.

With the daunting task of recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the Orlando Magic’s eighth game of the 2021 season back in January, he has to focus on the now and the day-to-day grind it takes to get back. There is not much time for looking too far ahead or too far behind.

Still, Fultz remembers what it felt like to start the 2021 season. He remembers the moments that propelled the Magic to a surprising 6-2 start and the possibility the team could climb the standings from first-round also-ran to something a bit more.

Fultz’s stats were fairly modest — 12.9 points per game, 5.4 assists per game and a 41.3-percent effective field goal percentage. The hot start was starting to calm down some statistically. But Fultz was still a key player in the Magic’s thinking and machination for the season. His injury sent the season careening off the tracks.

Fultz knows he was starting to finally come into his own after years of dealing with a shoulder injury nobody seemed able to figure out.

Both Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac continue to recover from their torn ACLs. But their grind continues as they remain on the sidelines to start training camp.

He was feeling a bit “groovy” as he put it Monday at media day. But that was then. Now is the work of getting back on the court.

“I work extremely hard to go out and compete not only for myself but for the city, the fans, the coaching staff,” Fultz said at media day Monday. “That’s all I try to go out there and do. I try to go out there and compete. I have a good understanding of what I have to do to help my team win and I try to focus on those things. I feel very very good, especially right now. Having time to tune up things I wouldn’t have time to do if I were playing every day. This opportunity that I have right now coming back to it, I feel better now.”

Markelle Fultz has spent much of the last year rehabbing alongside teammate Jonathan Isaac, recovering from his own torn ACL from August 2020 in the NBA’s bubble. They have had to work mostly on their own.

They are starting to get back on the court though. Both participated in at least some of the shooting drills the team went through after the team’s first practice session on Tuesday.

However, neither player appears ready to return fully. Their participation is still limited and there is no official timetable for them to return.

Even as the excitement and eagerness for their returns build.

“There is an excitement and a passion for those guys to get out on the floor,” coach Jamahl Mosley said during media day. “It has been great to watch them and the work ethic and the things they’ve been going through to get back on the floor. To see how hard everyone is working to strive to get to that level and get the season started.”

Mosley said after practice Tuesday that Isaac and Fultz are participating in accordance with their progression through their rehab. Both players remain limited as training camp begins and the Magic are in no rush to push them back onto the court.

They were both on the court and going through shooting drills when media were allowed to observe the end of practice Tuesday afternoon.

According to Josh Robbins of The Athletic, the Orlando Magic have already ruled them out for the season opener against the San Antonio Spurs.

That does not mean the two have had any setbacks with their injury. Notably, Isaac had his surgery in August 2020 putting him at nearly 14 months since his surgery. The Magic are clearly being cautious.

President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said one of the team’s overarching goals for the season is to reintegrate their injured players successfully. That means doing so without setbacks or without interruptions to their returns.

The Magic do not want any false starts in their recoveries or for them to come back play, and then have to sit out because of something that springs up. That appears to be the strategy behind this slow recovery. Especially ahead of this kind of a season where the team is not feeling the pressure to win immediately.

The Magic are confident in their work and progression.

“Both of those guys have as you would expect if you cover our team relentless in their approach,” Weltman said of the players’ recovery on Monday during media day. “They have been working daily, grinding. They are both looking really good. I will not elaborate on timelines.

“To me, as a layman, i just don’t want any setbacks. that’s where we have to come back to you guys and say, listen something is going on. Right now, they continue to progress through their rehab righ ton course. They are making progress. They have not only cleared every hurdle from a timeline perspective, but they have improved.”

Isaac said Monday during media day his recovery has been great. He and Fultz have fed off each other to push each other through rehab. Isaac added too that he has seen great progress with his game and that he is making strides.

That extra time is something Fultz especially has coveted.

It has not only afforded him the time to be near his son in the early stages of his life — something Fultz truly appreciated and considered a blessing of this unfortunate injury — but allowed him to work on parts of his game he may not otherwise be able to attack.

Fultz said the absence allowed him to work on his upper body, the mechanics of his shot and his conditioning. He could pretty much work on everything around his knee. Only time will tell how that translates to the court. At this stage, it does not appear he is cleared for contact.

The goal for him — and for Isaac — has been to attack each day for what it is.

“We spent a lot of time grinding in here,” Fultz said during media day. “We’re in here almost every day getting it in and rehabbing. These are things that we’re talking about just seeing the changes that we’ve made and the changes happening to the team. We’re so excited to go out there and play with this team. I feel like it’s going to be very fun.”

The Magic will not have either player available for the start of camp. It may even be some time into the season before they get fully integrated. But both players are putting in their work to get back.

They had no setbacks, according to the team, and that is a positive sign. But it will still be a little while before they begin to reintegrate fully into the team.