Clock is ticking on Markelle Fultz as trade deadline approaches

The Orlando Magic are experiencing some unparalleled success to start the season, placing them squarely in the playoff picture. That may change their approach to the trade deadline and put pressure on weak spots on the roster to get a fix now.
Markelle Fultz has yet to launch this season thanks to knee tendinitis and the rumor mill is already spinning for him and the Orlando Magic.
Markelle Fultz has yet to launch this season thanks to knee tendinitis and the rumor mill is already spinning for him and the Orlando Magic. / Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Magic fans are waiting on Markelle Fultz.

Anthony Black has been more than serviceable for the team so far as a defender. But the team has lacked the organization and composure that comes with a true point guard manning the helm.

Regardless of how anyone feels about how Fultz started the season or how anyone tries to break down Zapruder films of Fultz's shooting during shootarounds, he is a vital part of this team.

A vital part that has failed to launch even with the start of the season and the fast start the Magic have gotten off to this season.

Fultz has been on the verge of coming back for a week now. He returned to practice last week after playing just one game since Nov. 2 with left knee tendinitis. He was listed as QUESTIONABLE for Friday's game against the Boston Celtics last week. Then he was a scratch from that game and has been re-listed as OUT.

Fultz is close to a return for whenever the Magic throw him in. He is regularly shooting with players after practices and shootarounds.

But the wheel keeps on turning. And while Fultz only has five games under his belt this season, time is ticking for him before he and the team have to make a big decision.

And the circumstances of the Magic's season have indeed changed. Orlando is winning now and what the team needs for success moving forward is also becoming clear. Everyone should feel and know that Fultz is on an expiring contract and there is a big choice to make at point guard for this team.

That only heightens the urgency for him to play and prove himself. Time is indeed running out.

The trade deadline is coming on Feb. 8. Teams usually evaluate their rosters at this time of year and determine its trade strategy and who might be available. But there is still a long way to go -- and a lot of games to play -- before teams meet the deadline and have to make decisions.

Orlando is going to be a team that is involved in at least a few of these discussions. The team is in playoff contention and building into a sustained playoff team. They also have clear needs.

The first somewhat concrete rumor came from Hoops Habit's Jake Weinbach who suggested the Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers could be landing spots for Washington Wizards guard Tyus Jones if the Washington Wizards opt to unload some veterans and build some draft capital at the deadline.

It is probably too early to say for certain that this is something the Magic would do or that it is even something they have broached.

The Magic are going to become a favored landing spot for a lot of guards around the league since the team appears to need guards -- whether that is questions about Jalen Suggs or questions about Markelle Fultz's future in the lineup.

Jones is about as strong a guard that appears to be available on the trade market.

Jones is averaging a career-best 12.3 points per game and 5.4 assists per game in his first year as a full-time starter. Jones shoots 42.6 percent from beyond the arc this year in the Wizards' spread-out offense. He is a career 36.2 percent 3-point shooter and has shot better than 35 percent from three in three of the past four seasons.

The Jones' drawback from the Magic's perspective is his size at 6-foot-1. He is starting for the first time this year on a rebuilding Wizards team and can lead an offense. But for the Magic, they will wonder if he can be the head of the snake on defense or if they could hide him in their scheme.

Jones is set to become a free agent this summer. So the Magic could also theoretically wait for the offseason to pursue him and not give up anything (he makes $14 million this season). Orlando may not be able to wait because of the competition in the market for him. But that is a factor too.

As a shooter, Jones fits the bill. And that has obviously been an intense focus for the Magic this season -- and especially this week with their poor shooting.

And that has been the biggest question in Fultz's career. At the end of the day, these rumors become moot if Fultz is available and playing well. And the Magic are going to give Fulz his opportunity to prove himself. They know how good he can be.

This year has been a struggle though.

Fultz has played in only five games dealing with the left knee tendinitis. He has averaged 11.4 points per game and 4.0 assists per game while shooting 48.2 percent from the floor.

All of those numbers are down from last year and certainly not the post-All-Star level the team saw from him last year that gave everyone hope he was approaching his college level of play.

Fultz has a lot to prove. And with his free agency coming up this summer, the Magic have to think more about what they need from the point guard position. Most everyone would agree that it is some shooting and floor spacing as much as playmaking.

The Magic do not quite know what version of Fultz they are getting. And they are certainly eager to see him on the floor for his playmaking boost in the next week or so.

That will only heighten the intensity and pressure on his play through January. Because the Magic will have to make a decision on him and others by that February deadline.

And clearly there will be options if Orlando decides to go in a different direction.

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All eyes will be on Fultz then. Because his spot is clearly a pressure point for this Magic team.