Jonathan Isaac begins rehab stint with Lakeland Magic

Jonathan Isaac has all-defensive team potential but his place as a cornerstone for the Orlando Magic is still a mystery. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Isaac has all-defensive team potential but his place as a cornerstone for the Orlando Magic is still a mystery. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Every time Jonathan Isaac steps on the court, it feels like he is inching a bit closer. It is a cause of some small celebration, but still another path on a long journey that has had him out for two whole seasons after tearing his ACL in the bubble in August 2020.

For Isaac, it has been nearly three years since he last played after he suffered a knee injury on Jan. 1, 2020, and missed the remainder of the season until its restart in Orlando at the bubble. He lasted only two games there before he tore his ACL and started a long recovery process that has had its own snags (a hamstring surgery last spring that slowed his recovery).

There has been no impatience from the Magic organizationally in taking every precaution and step to bring him back. They have been extra cognizant too of his prolonged absence as they try to rebuild his conditioning.

After going through nearly a month of playing contact with coaches, Isaac took an important step Tuesday in his return to play.

Jonathan Isaac began a rehab stint with the Lakeland Magic on Tuesday as he played 5-on-5 for the first time against other professional players and eyes his final hurdle before returning to the court.

Isaac began a rehab stint with the Lakeland Magic, practicing with the team Tuesday and playing 5-on-5, full contact against other professional players for the first time since his injury. It is another small step in his recovery, but a big one as he takes what could be his last major hurdle before returning to the court with the Orlando Magic.

"“I feel pretty good,” Jonathan Isaac said after the Orlando Magic’s practice Tuesday. “Today was a big day for me as you guys know. I got to go up and down and play 5-on-5 with the G-league guys. It was great. It couldn’t have been any better other than wanting to make every shot. It felt good. I feel good running up and down banging, my first time doing it. I’m in a real good place.”"

Isaac said he will practice with the G-League team again on Thursday. How long he practices with them and when he practices with them will depend both on how he feels and recovers from each practice and the Orlando and Lakeland schedules.

Coach Jamahl Mosley said where Jonathan Isaac will be will depend on their schedules — Lakeland is home this weekend for a pair of games and play seven of their next eight games at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland to end the year while Orlando is in the midst of a five-game homestand that began Monday night.

The goal right now is simply to get Isaac back on the floor and to push him to do more each time he goes out on the floor.

Isaac said Tuesday marked the first time he had played 5-on-5 with all basketball players. His first “legit” time running up and down and playing without restrictions. He said his instincts came back pretty quickly as did his finishing in transition.

There is still time to build up his skill and his game.

"“It’s just exciting honestly,” Isaac said after practice Tuesday. “I’ve felt really good about it. There’s obviously just the game speed of it that has to continue to progress. I haven’t played in a while, as you guys know. Getting back to it, this was a really good milestone for me. The organization is happy about it, I’m happy about it, the G-League guys were happy about it. I’m in a good place.”"

He said his goal, for now, is to get his conditioning back, get accustomed to game speed and regain his awareness. All things that will take time to return.

Isaac said he estimated he played about a quarter (with some breaks) and that he did get tired at the end. But it certainly hits differently to play with professional players again and not the sort of simulated games he played with coaches.

This is not an insignificant step for Isaac in this long recovery process.

There is no firm timetable for Isaac to return to the team quite yet. Isaac said he hopes to be back ASAP, but he understands the long process to return to the court.

It will still depend on how he responds to playing again and how quickly he can rebuild his conditioning and skill level. There is still that hurdle to clear.

"“I think it was great for him,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Tuesday. “It was a great step in the right direction toward his continued rehab. It’s exciting to see him on the floor. As a person, as a player, what he’s done and what he has been through and how he has continued to battle and continued to fight and continued to put the work in daily, you know how difficult it can become. He has kept a great spirit about him the entire time.”"

The Magic meanwhile are eager to see him back on the floor.

Markelle Fultz, who went through his own rehab stint with Lakeland last year as he returned from his own torn ACL, said he texted Jonathan Isaac a congratulations when the news came down in the morning. He was not the only teammate, Isaac said, who offered congratulations.

The news is certainly a lift for a team on a nine-game losing streak even if Isaac’s return to the court is still a little ways away.

Still, it is clear everyone understands what Isaac can bring to the table and how he can help the Magic take their next steps forward. Isaac would fit perfectly with the team’s switching, versatile style and their defensive mantra.

Orlando has missed someone with Isaac’s size, let alone his defensive potential. Whether and how quickly Isaac can get back to that level will be something left to when he actually steps on the court.

But Isaac sees how he can help this team.

"“I think we’ve tried our best to hold our own,” Isaac said after practice Tuesday. “Our energy has been there, our toughness has been there. We just have to continue to get better as a young team. Coming back, I just can’t get wait to get back in the fold with them and be that defensive anchor and be an option on the other end of the floor and keep moving forward with them.”"

That time is coming sooner than later. His long-awaited return is quickly coming to the doorstep. Starting his rehab and practicing with Lakeland is a big step in that process.

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While no one knows how much longer the Magic will have to wait for Isaac, it is getting closer than ever.