The number one question I get as a Magic blogger — and still the number one question coach Jamahl Mosley gets any time the team has a practice — is about injuries and when players will return.
There is no avoiding it.
The Magic have a full lineup of rotation-caliber players injured right now, making it hard for the team to compete at a high level consistently or get a sense of what this roster actually looks like.
The team has been in half-growth mode and half-survival mode to start the season with Markelle Fultz (fractured toe), Gary Harris (torn meniscus), Jonathan Isaac (torn ACL, hamstring surgery) and Moe Wagner (sprained ankle) out the entire season and Jalen Suggs (knee sprain and sprained ankle) and Cole Anthony (torn oblique) in and out of the lineup too through the first eight games.
The Magic maybe do not help themselves by not being completely forthright with where players are at in their recovery processes and their open resistance to giving any timelines for returns.
As Jeff Weltman has told me on several occasions, there is usually not any update to give. Players will be ready when they are ready.
The Magic’s return to the Amway Center after spending most of the first two weeks of the season on the road though does bring optimism.
The Orlando Magic are still facing a long list of injuries as they begin a seven-game homestand. The hope is that the time at home could bring some health and players back from injury.
The Orlando Magic started a seven-game homestand with Thursday’s win over the Golden State Warriors. For the next two weeks, the Magic will have the chance to settle in at home, recuperate and get some practice time.
For a team that is very cautious in bringing players back from long-term injuries, it feels like a time to help players reach those final checks and clearances to return to the court.
So how close are players to returning? Mosley actually gave some detail on where players are at in his pregame press conference Thursday. Mosley said they are each doing small pieces of the team’s prep, but nobody has made it to 5-on-5 yet.
Wagner is not doing any 5-on-5 yet. Harris and Isaac are still doing half-court drills and getting some bumps (whether that is still controlled drills or full half-court play is unclear). Fultz is not doing that part yet. Mosley said Fultz is still wearing his boot/sandal for some drills but not wearing it for others.
There are still clearly steps every player has to make to get back onto the court. Of course, it may take one practice to clear that hurdle and be back on the court. Magic fans are again left in the dark.
With Anthony, there is perhaps some clarity.
Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel reports Anthony should be back on the court for individual work soon and he hopes to be back around Thanksgiving or early December.
That at least is some timeline. But with the Magic, who really knows when a player will return? It, as always, depends on how a player responds to treatment and rehab. That is a phrase Magic fans are all too familiar with.
But all Orlando can do is let the players work through the rehab process. As always, the team is going to clear players likely with the intention of them staying on the court for good. That seems to be the reasoning behind the caution — although Jalen Suggs seemingly recovers faster than others.
No doubt, the injuries have played a major role this season. It has cut into the team’s depth and hurt the bench. While that has given the opportunity to two-way players like Kevon Harris and given the Magic some room to experiment, it has still kept some of the team’s best players from playing and shifted roles into uncomfortable places.
It has certainly hurt the team’s goals for the year.
Orlando wanted to be able to give more hands-on coaching and use competition to move players in and out of the rotation. They wanted to be able to sit players who made mistakes and coach them in the moment to correct repeated errors.
Lacking a full lineup of rotation players has hurt the team as they have had to continue learning things on the fly and playing through their mistakes.
“The other part of that is having bodies in order to do it,” Mosley said before Thursday’s game. “Part of that is if we have healthy bodies, we can have guys see and look at that. When we don’t have bodies, it’s actually just next man up in that same boat.”
The by-committee approach is not merely the approach to scoring but to rotations too. That is evident with Mosley too. He has been willing to experiment with lineups and settle on a firmer rotation by the second half.
For instance, in Thursday’s game, he pulled Bol Bol and put Mo Bamba in for the first time in the third quarter after a pair of defensive rotation mistakes from the young big man. With the Warriors playing small, Mosley opted to go with Caleb Houstan instead of returning to Bol in a small lineup with Chuma Okeke at center to start the fourth quarter.
Necessity is the mother of invention and the Magic are at least trying some things.
But the team absolutely needs some health to take the steps forward they want to take. This homestand is providing some hope the team could get healthy quickly.
It is still hope though and the Magic are not going to rush someone back just to fit this window. The waiting game indeed continues.