The 2021 season was weird for everyone.
The league started late in December after finishing in October in the bubble. The league was determined to get back to normal in the midst of a pandemic. There were bound to be a few surprises with such a quick turnaround and a truncated schedule.
The Orlando Magic seemed set to be one of them. They shockingly had gotten off to the start they had exactly hoped for sitting at 5-2 with Markelle Fultz having strong performances in the majority of those seven games.
Then on Jan. 6, 2021, the worst possible thing happened.
Markelle Fultz was on the floor screaming in pain with both his hands clutching his left knee. He had been diagnosed with a torn ACL. The Magic simply lost their quarterback, their decision-maker, their point guard. The Magic would then go on to lose eight of the next nine games and that was the start of a poor season for the injury-riddled team.
Orlando finished with the third-worst record in the league and would ship out their veteran stalwarts to begin a long-term rebuild.
As Fultz stepped back onto the court 13 months later, he would be joining a different team with different expectations.
Fultz, though, had one more surprise in his debut game.
Markelle Fultz made his return for the Orlando Magic and made an immediate impact as he reminded everyone of just what he can do in his debut game.
From the starting point in which Fultz announced his return with the Orlando Magic Pod Squad to the finishing point of him putting on a dazzling 16-minute performance, Fultz had the entire Magic fanbase on the edge of their seats.
All around social media, Magic fans could not have been more excited for the return of Fultz, even calling Monday, “Fultz Day.”
The entire Magic roster showed up to the game rocking Fultz “shir-seys.” Mo Bamba after the game said in regards to all players wearing the jerseys, “We are very much behind him, not even just on the court but off the court because we know what type of a special person he is.”
And he certainly did not disappoint, checking into the game in the first quarter, the Amway Center crowd gave Fultz a loud standing ovation, which Fultz acknowledged and raised his arm thanking the supportive fans.
In the very first play, Markelle Fultz proved he has eyes on the back of his head as he drove to the basket and found a cutting Franz Wagner for an easy layup. No one saw that cut, not even the Indiana Pacers’ defense, but Fultz did.
From then on, a display of an array of flashy ball-handling moves and rising up for a contested mid-range shot over Jalen Smith, Markelle Fultz drained that with ease. And then driving to the rim in a tough corkscrew up and under layup.
All in all, it was a performance that even Fultz and the Magic could not have scripted any better.
Coach Mosley said after the game Fultz’s energy and joy that he played with uplifted the team. It was clear how much everyone was in his corner. He was a big factor in the win.
The Magic mainly put Markelle Fultz in lineups with his old teammates when he was healthy in Mo Bamba, Chuma Okeke and Terrence Ross, which Jamahl Mosley acknowledged had a little to do with keeping Fultz comfortable and bringing him back with ease.
Fultz only played 16 minutes, however, that was more than enough to show who and what type of special player he is. There was a reason he was the consensus number 1 overall pick. Once Fultz can get an extended run and stay healthy, he will undoubtedly help take this team to new heights.
Now, the Magic await Jonathan Isaac’s return, who will help the team even more. Hopefully helping to improve the defense and helping to establish some sort of identity on that end. Isaac is further away and may not play this season. He is not yet doing contact, limited to shooting drills and some contact with coaches.
Fultz’s return will help that too as he led the team in deflections in the 2020 season, which led to many fastbreak opportunities.
It is no secret the Magic will not be competing in the Playoffs this season. But the chemistry between the young core will continue to grow more and more. A season with a fully healthy roster can result in a respectable amount of wins for this group.
Now the Magic must do what Fultz always says: “Continue to get better each day and dominate the present.”
There is certainly light at the end of the tunnel for this hard-working team filled with young talent.