Orlando Magic seem confident they can lean on Jonathan Isaac

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 /

The Orlando Magic have all seemingly gathered in Las Vegas this week for the NBA Summer League.

The entire Orlando Magic main roster has arrived and many were courtside for Monday’s game against the Indiana Pacers after several made the early trip for Saturday’s game — with Cole Anthony becoming one of the highlights of the ESPN broadcast.

There was Paolo Banchero with Markelle Fultz and his fresh haircut. There was the freshly arrived Wendell Carter with Franz Wagner and Gary Harris (and a surprise appearance from Admiral Schofield, it would appear). There was Jalen Suggs, Chuma Okeke and Goga Bitadze.

Freshly signed Joe Ingles made his first appearance with the group. Jamahl Mosley was back with the group after missing Saturday’s game to attend a Celebration of Life ceremony for a friend. Moe Wagner is in Las Vegas and freshly signed his new two-year deal with the Magic.

And, of course, there was Jonathan Isaac. The first person you could spot along the sideline.

It is hard not to notice him — listed at 6-foot-11 but seemingly taller. It is hard not to notice him because everyone has seen him so infrequently in the last three years.

The Orlando Magic have their roster set for the 2024 season it would appear and Jonathan Isaac figures to still play a big part. The Magic seem ready to bet on him being healthy (finally).

The Magic though have their full squad. The team’s roster is full and a quick look at the depth chart reveals the team is preparing to rely on Isaac as much as anyone to get them through this season.

That feels like a considerable risk considering he has played only 13 games since going down with a knee injury on Jan. 1, 2020. Eleven of those games came this season in his much-anticipated return.

A hamstring injury that required surgery cut that return short and seemingly threw his overall future into disarray.

Yet, the Magic still seemed content to wait. They not only seem content to wait. They seem willing to believe he can be a major contributor to the team once again.

"“My expectation is that Jonathan will be healthy, and he will have a great year,” Jeff Weltman told Justin Termine and Frank Isola on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “Obviously, it doesn’t matter what my expectations are, it’s just got to happen. Jonathan is having a great summer. He looks terrific. . . . He’s doing all the things to put himself in a position to succeed. The doctors seem to feel confident with it. We’ll just see where it goes.“That guy is a game-changing player. I think people kind out of sight, out of mind, forget how good he is.”"

That has always been the big thing hanging in the background for the Magic for several years. The team has this super-talented forward who could very well help turn the team’s fortunes. It has been a long wait.

And Orlando to some extent has moved on from needing him — both Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner are squarely ahead of him on the depth chart. But the Magic still have not moved completely past him. Isaac could still and probably will need to play a key role for the team this season.

The Magic at least seemed to signal some of this confidence in their offseason decisions.

Orlando put its focus on the offseason shoring other parts of the roster, seemingly opening a path for Isaac to still be a major contributor.

The Magic focused on guards with the draft in Anthony Black and Jett Howard. They spent their free agency shoring up their shooting with veteran Joe Ingles and their front court, retaining Goga Bitadze on a team option and re-signing Moe Wagner.

Both Ingles and Wagner could help at power forward. But neither is the perfect fit to back up the size the team has in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. As far as the team’s overall philosophy in having bigger, playmaking forwards, Isaac seems to fit the bill.

He is more than capable of performing.

Even in his limited time last year, he averaged only 5.0 points per game and 4.0 rebounds per game. But he still added 1.7 “stocks” per game and shot 40.0 percent from three.

Even with that limited time, the Magic had a 107.7 defensive rating with Isaac on the floor, an elite level of defense (the team was only better with Bitadze on the floor).

There is still a lot of excitement about what Isaac can bring defensively. He has shown that those instincts did not go away.

"“He is special. He covers up a multitude of mistakes,” Mosley said on the NBATV broadcast during Monday’s game. “His ability to communicate, his length and he finds different ways to guard pick and rolls, rebounding the basketball. He does so many tremendous things and he just has a knack for it. It’s great for our guys to see and to feel.”"

That was evident about him throughout his short time on the floor in the 2023 season. And it is still there.

Still there, that is, if he can stay healthy.

That is ultimately what the Magic are banking on. They certainly have a better sense of how far along in his recovery process from the hamstring surgery he is as well as just how he looks as he moves into an offseason program in preparation for training camp.

Their decisions in free agency and their trust in that recovery certainly suggest their comfort with this bet they have made. And Orlando, of course, can shuffle the lineups to make sure Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero split those power forward minutes (although last year they shared nearly two-thirds of their minutes together) and they have Chuma Okeke capable of playing that position.

With a postseason chase that might have narrow margins, this is quite the bet to make.

A big theme for this season though is going to become self-evaluation. Both Jeff Weltman and general manager Anthony Parker have made it clear in this season is about making some of these tough decisions. Weltman told SiriusXM NBA Radio that the team did not spend this offseason to give the team’s young players their chance to show their growth.

But decisions are coming and everyone knows it. And the attention on Isaac is certainly as high as anyone else.

His contract does not become fully guaranteed until the Jan. 10 deadline and his contract for next season is fully non-guaranteed. Orlando is reaching a point where the team may have to decide to move on finally and fully — or at least use that $17 million contract slot elsewhere as they aim to improve and climb the Eastern Conference standings.

For now then, the Magic appear to be confident they can get a healthy season from Isaac. It seems they are planning for it as they put their roster together and prepare for the season.

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If that gamble pays off, the Magic will have a deep team that can be monstrous defensively. It will be one of the central storylines for a hungry, young team pushing to make the playoffs this season.