Orlando Magic may again be a different team for Jonathan Isaac’s return

Jonathan Isaac's return was again cut short as the Orlando Magic forward had to recover from a late-season surgery. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Isaac's return was again cut short as the Orlando Magic forward had to recover from a late-season surgery. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

Jonathan Isaac walked across the Orlando Magic practice court Monday during the team’s exit interviews, taking a break from yet another round of rehab to address the media for the first time since his already cut-short season was cut shot once again.

As the media finished up with the player who preceded him, he stopped and rubbed his right knee.

Oh, that right knee. The one that started it all.

Not the knee that suffered a devastating torn ACL in the bubble in August 2020. But the one that unluckily wrapped around Bradley Beal’s leg in January 2020 and set Isaac sprawling to the ground, cutting short what felt like an All-Defensive team season and a true step forward for the young big man.

Isaac played in just two games between that injury and his return in the 2023 season. There were so many starts and stops along the way — a hamstring injury that required surgery that further delayed his return until Jan. 23, 2023, and his reintroduction to the league.

He played in only 11 games before another injury hit. This time a torn left adductor that would require surgery and end his season on Feb. 23, the first game after the All-Star Break.

Jonathan Isaac is recovering from his latest surgery and taking steps to return to the court. He expects to be back on the court soon. But the Orlando Magic may again be different when he returns to training camp.

So if everyone is a bit skittish around Isaac and every bump, bruise and step he takes, please forgive them. It has often felt like the Magic need to wrap him in bubble wrap and keep him as safe as possible just to squeeze out a few minutes from him.

The good news then is that Isaac is nearing the end of the expected 6-8 week recovery for his latest ailment.

In Isaac’s words from the team’s exit interview Monday, he should be full-go to return from injury in the next few weeks and should be on track for a full offseason of workouts and ready for training camp in the fall.

"“This is really going to be the first summer I have to fully work,” Jonathan Isaac said during exit interviews Monday. “Every other summer I’ve been rehabbing and trying to get back to the court. I will be hopefully in the next few weeks be full go and take on the summer with strengthening and doing everything I need to do to have a healthy next season.”"

Isaac’s long injury history is a big part of his story. It has been a hard thing to put behind him.

For as impressive as his defense is — and even in his 11-game stint this year, the Magic went 8-3 and posted a 107.7 defensive rating with Isaac on the floor — it means very little if he is not on the floor to deploy it.

This season felt like anything the Magic could get from Isaac was a bonus with the uncertainty of when he returned. But the reason the Magic have stuck with him through these long injury processes is because of that great potential. It is because of how good he can be.

And that was on display almost from the first time he took the floor in that January win over the Boston Celtics. Isaac was rusty and needed time to get his legs back under him. Before he could really get his momentum going, his legs got cut out from under him.

Almost literally.

"“When I first got wind of exactly what it was, it was ‘Ah shoot here we go again,'” Isaac said during exit interviews Monday. “And then once you talk to the doc and it was a 6-8 week period and you are back to full strength. Im praying this is the last one and I can not look back and just move forward with my career.”"

If anyone knows how to handle the rehab process and can tackle it successfully, it is Isaac. And it was certainly a relief that this surgery had only a small recovery time. So much so that it does appear he will get that full offseason on the court.

Isaac, barring any additional setbacks or injuries (which just cannot be ruled out), will be a full participant when training camp begins in the fall.

The question then, just as it was when this initial injury occurred to disrupt his comeback, is just what role the Magic will envision for him and what part he will play for this team.

To a man, everyone on the Magic roster immediately put playoff pressure and expectations on themselves for next year. Everyone can sense this young team is ready to take its next steps.

But it is hard to look at this team and find a clear path for Isaac. It is hard to ask this team to continue to wait. That time is running out.

Certainly, the Magic missed Isaac when he was out — both before and after he made his return.

Chuma Okeke struggled with injuries and to find his rhythm throughout the season, preventing the Magic from having at least a role stand-in throughout the season. It forced the team to turn to Bol Bol to limited success or go with two-big lineups to fill those minutes.

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The Magic found themselves to be a team that likes size at the forward position but with few options for the versatile size the team covets.

Many draft projections have the Magic looking for some depth on the wings and specifically, at that versatile forward spot the Magic seem to like with Houston’s Jarace Walker and UCF’s Taylor Hendricks. It is easy to ponder whether the Magic would go to an ultra-big lineup if they won the Lottery and drafted Victor Wembanyama.

That is the kind of environment Isaac might return to. He will again face a completely different landscape as he tries to get himself all the way back and playing without any restrictions or concerns.

This was ultimately a fairly minor injury for Isaac, but it could have major repercussions. There are no minor injuries with Isaac anymore. Just uncertainty because he has played so little.

Isaac knows he can still contribute to this team. As he enters his offseason, he is trying to get healthy and to build on his skills to continue adding value to this team.

"“I know what our team is capable of just from watching,” Isaac said during exit interviews Monday. “And then being integrated into it knowing that I have something to offer to this team getting better and continuing to get over the hump into next season to make our mark on the league. I’m just focused on that. Having a good summer, doing everything I need to do to tighten up my game and help this team win games next year.”"

So as Isaac finished his interview he walked back across the practice court once more. Back into the weight room. As the media finished up talking to other players, Isaac was clearly back at work doing his rehab, just as he had done in solitude seeming for so long.

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The carrot of a return though is clearly before him. And this time he will surely be ready for more.