2023 Orlando Magic Season Review What Went Wrong: Injuries dug team another deep hole

Jonathan Isaac's return gave a brief glimmer of hope for the Orlando Magic. But his injury was emblematic of how injuries remained a story for the team. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Isaac's return gave a brief glimmer of hope for the Orlando Magic. But his injury was emblematic of how injuries remained a story for the team. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

The January evening when Jonathan Isaac made his long-awaited return was a moment of celebration.

For the first time in what seemed like years, the Magic had a clean injury sheet. There was no one on the injury report save for two-way players unavailable for G-League assignments. It was a minor miracle for a franchise that had its postseason ambitions and growth ambitions derailed from a growing list of injuries.

That is what initiated the decision to start over. But the injuries did not stop it seemed, stunting growth.

Isaac was the last piece of that puzzle. His years-long journey to return from a torn ACL was often filled with frustration and a feeling of a lack of information on his status. The team was rebuilding so everything was an opportunity and there was time to wait. But it was representative of the frustrations of the early part of the rebuild.

How could the Magic figure out anything about their roster when they were constantly undermanned? When they were constantly without key players — essential players even? How could they progress if they did not have the full picture (and while dealing with the typical depth issues that young, rebuilding teams have)?

This was the biggest question for the season. And as the Magic got healthier, they could see how clear the picture was. They played a whole lot better — going 8-3 in the 11 games Isaac played even — and they could see what their future could look like.

Health still just does not last for the Magic. And with Isaac especially.

The Orlando Magic had a promising season. But injuries were again a big part of the story and perhaps the biggest thing that held the team back.

Injuries remained the biggest story of the season and the biggest detriment to the team taking its next step.

It was not just Isaac’s encouraging cameo this season. Any optimism about his future seemed to get cut down when he left after just 11 appearances shortly after the All-Star Break with what appears to be a relatively minor adductor injury. That still required surgery and shut him down for the season. It appears he will be fine for the start of training camp.

So while the Magic were healthier this season. Those setbacks were still more than enough to put the team in a hole too deep for them to dig out of.

The reason the Magic started 5-20 and had to climb so far out just to get back to postseason contention was once again injuries.

Specifically, in this case, injuries that hit one position group and froced the Magic into some uncomfortable and stretched-out lineups.

Orlando was without Markelle Fultz for the first 20 games of the season after fracturing a toe just before training camp. Cole Anthony went out with an oblique injury just five games into the season and missed the next 16 outings.

Jalen Suggs sprained his ankle in preseason and played the first two games of the season before missing the next five. He struggled with that injury before sitting out 21 games from the end of November into January.

This essentially left the Magic without any natural point guards on their roster and led to the team struggling to gain offensive traction and consistency. Especially getting organized late in games.

The Magic did their best to make lemonade out of these lemons. They tried running Franz Wagner at point guard, to mixed effect. The stretch forced them to put the ball in Paolo Banchero’s hands more and threw him a bit into the deep end. They were forced to play and explore Bol Bol for better and for worse.

The Magic worked to make the best of the moment. But it was clear this was not a sustainable winning formula. And there was simply little the Magic could do knowing that all three of these players would be back.

Adding on top of that were injuries to Gary Harris — he missed 16 of the first 17 games and 27 of the first 33 games — and Wendell Carter — he missed 17 of 18 games in late November and December. These are two important starters that were out of the lineup for the Magic and kept them from realizing their full potential.

The Magic did not start what became the final starting lineup of Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter until Jan. 5 (they went 18-18 for the season).

Stability indeed helped the Magic reach a new level this season. As did the increase in talent. The Magic were significantly better throughout the season. When this team was healthy, they were clearly at least a .500 team which would have been more than enough to make the postseason in some fashion.

That is how tantalizingly close the Magic are to that next level. And everyone seems to know it.

At exit interviews on Monday, everyone noted how the team’s outlook might have been different if they were healthier to start the season. Their postseason dreams might have come to fruition.

The kind of health the team experienced in the back half of this season is what the team is hoping for again for all of next season as the team hopes to expand its strong play and mature over the course of a season.

There will be injuries of course. Nobody has a team that plays all 82 games in a season.

Every team has to deal with injuries and the Magic do have several players with extensive injury histories they should be planning for in their team building.

But it is encouraging how many of those players still lasted the entire season once they returned from their injuries.

Fultz did not miss a game from the time he returned from his preseason injury until the end of the season when he was held out of games. Carter returned in late December and missed only seven additional games while dealing with his plantar fascia injury. Suggs missed only five games (one to a suspension) after returning from his ankle issues.

Isaac was the only player who came back and then had to get shut down again.

So perhaps the Magic are indeed experiencing some health luck. That finally came through for them and they were able to get a good long look at what they have.

Next. 3 players the Orlando Magic should cheer for in the playoffs. dark

But ultimately, it was injuries as much as their youth and inexperience that kept the Magic from the postseason. Injuries were unfortunately again a huge story following the team and a question the franchise still has to answer and prepare for.