Wendell Carter got the news that he was going to return to the court at some point after the Orlando Magic got home from their trip to Boston to face the Boston Celtics. Everyone sensed the time was coming soon for him to return as he continued to clear hurdles.
Carter, it seems really could not contain his excitement, sending out this cryptic tweet early Monday morning.
Carter has been out with some major injuries throughout his career. Getting the clearance though did feel a bit different. He said getting that approval was like getting drafted all over again.
Wendell Carter is back and will return to the lineup Wednesday. And he really cannot wait to be on the floor once again.
"I'm just super excited to get back out there with my teammates," Carter said after shootaround on Wednesday. "It has been a long time coming. I think 19 or 20 games since I have been out. We have had some highs, we have had some lows. I told myself and told my coaches that I'm going to bring that even playing feel for us so we don't get too high or too low from wins or losses. That's kind of my goal going into this thing."
Carter is indeed rejoining a team that is in a very different place than the one he left.
When Carter injured his hand skying for a key rebound in the Orlando Magic's win over the Utah Jazz on Nov. 2, the team was 3-2 and still getting its footing under it. The team's defense dominated through the early part of the season but could not score.
Even Carter was struggling with things he typically did well, averaging 9.4 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game. He did this one horrible shooting splits of 37.8/31.3/57.1.
That is a far cry from his dependable 15.2 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game with 52.5/35.6/73.8 shooting splits. That is the Carter the Magic were going to rely on.
Still, the team won games.
Now Carter is rejoining a team with a clear defensive identity still -- fourth in the league in defensive rating giving up 109.7 points per 100 possessions -- and showing plenty of improvement on offense -- 18th in the league at 113.2 points per 100 posessions. Through Nov. 2, the Magic were scoring 107.2 points per 100 possessions.
With Carter out, the Magic won nine straight games and have built a nine-game home winning streak. They sit in fourth in the Eastern Conference going 13-7 in the games Carter has missed.
That is a credit to Goga Bitadze and every player for stepping up and filling that void. But the team has felt some of Bitadze's shortcomings and there is legitimate excitement for Carter to return to the lineup.
"We're extremely excited to have him back in the fold," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday's shootaround. "I think the guys are excited, we're excited for what he brings to the table in so many ways. I think Goga in those minutes that he had did a tremendous job for this team with his selflessness and just being able to contribute in so many ways."
There is generally a lot of excitement to have another teammate back on the floor. There is still going to have to be some adjustment to Carter's return.
And Orlando will still be cautious in his return.
Carter is likely to start, but Mosley said he would likely play Carter in a short burst of minutes early and check in to see how he feels. Carter is playing with a massive wrap around his left hand and even some padding on two of his fingers on the left hand. Carter said most of that padding is on the top of his hand still allowing him to grab the ball.
Carter is still going to need some time to adjust fully. But everyone can see the potential in Carter returning.
"I feel like my shotmaking from the 3-point line could help spread the floor of our driving guards and forwards in Paolo [Banchero] and Franz [Wagner]," Carter said after shootaround on Wednesday. "I think that will help us out a lot on the offensive end. And then defensively, I feel like I do a little bit of everything -- rebounding, blocking shots, being in the right place at the right time. The IQ I have for the game is going to be really beneficial for this team to help us get over the hump."
While he struggled with his shot early in the season, Carter is an excellent shooter and a threat from the perimeter in a way that Bitadze is not. While Bitadze has been excellent on defense -- the Magic had a 107.4 defensive rating with Bitadze on the floor, the best mark among the Magic's starters -- but his offense was very limited to setting screens and cleaning up around the basket.
There are still a lot of moments where defenders ignore Bitadze to try to cram the lane for Banchero and Wagner. Having Carter who is more of a threat from the perimeter is a big boost.
His defensive versatility will also help grow the team and its potential. Everyone knows it and everyone wants to see that team at full strength. As good as the Magic have been, players understand Carter has a presence about him that helps this team succeed.
"Wendell has an unbelievable presence about him," Mosley said after Wednesday's shootaround. "Not just his physical stature but when he walks in a room and he walks on the court, there is a sense of strength and a sense of confidence he brings to this group. The way he carries himself with a smile not to take things too seriously but to know we have a job to get done. He brings that to this group."
The Magic have shown a lot of maturity this season. They have not lost more than two games in a row this season -- and that is only heightening the attention on Wednesday's game against the Miami Heat especially heading into a tough back-to-back Thursday in Milwaukee against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Carter certainly adds to that. He has been a steady voice for the team for a long time. And his presence will help the team weather a lot of storms.
But first Carter has to get back onto the floor. And that is a moment he has waited on for a long time. He is eager to jump in with his teammates and add to their success so far this season.