Lost in the controversy surrounding Jonathan Isaac’s refusal to participate in protests during the national anthem is the fact that the 6-foot-11 forward has been developing into exactly the type of player the Orlando Magic expected when they made him an NBA lottery pick as a 19-year-old.
Unfortunately, Isaac put his future at risk in recent days and now faces a tough road to full-fledged NBA stardom.
Jonathan Isaac was progressing as a player
Jonathan Isaac came and went so quickly that few basketball fans outside the ACC knew the highly recruited prospect’s credentials when he entered the 2017 NBA draft as a one-and-done.
Isaac played as Florida State, averaging 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, but he was also logging just 26 minutes per contest. Understandably, that raised questions about whether the rail-thin combo forward would be able to hold up under the rigors of the physical pro league.
Nevertheless, the Orlando Magic liked Isaac enough to select him sixth overall in a draft in which Markelle Fultz went No. 1 to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics scored big by snaring Jayson Tatum at No. 3.
Isaac appeared in just 27 games in his rookie season, but he followed up by recording 9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a game while making 64 starts last season. The progression was continuing this season when Isaac went down with a knee injury on New Year’s Day against the Washington Wizards.
That injury was diagnosed as a posterior lateral corner injury and a bruise to the medial bone. The Magic immediately ruled him out for two months but later made the decision to shut him down for the remainder of the season. However, that came before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the season for 20 weeks.
With the NBA opting for an unprecedented late- July resumption, the Magic allowed Isaac to return to the court. He played in one scrimmage in Orlando, then turned heads with 16 points and six rebounds in just 16 ½ minutes July 31 vs. the Brooklyn Nets.
The return was overshadowed by the national anthem ruckus
The media relegated Jonathan Isaac’s huge stat line in his return after missing 31 games to an afterthought in stories because the third-year pro had become the first NBA player or coach to neither kneel nor wear a Black Lives Matter shirt during the national anthem before the game.
Instead, Isaac wore his Magic jersey and warmup sweats and stood with his head bowed and hands behind his back during the anthem. He said after the game that he didn’t participate in the protest for religious reasons, a decision he shared with teammates earlier in the week.
Orlando cruised to a 132-116 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, but it came at great cost. Driving to the basket and without any contact, Isaac went down at the baseline early in the fourth quarter and immediately clutched at the same left knee that he had injured seven months ago.
Isaac was taken from the court in a wheelchair and went for an MRI that determined he had torn the ACL.
The torn ACL may cost Jonathan Isaac millions of dollars
Jonathan Isaac was on the books for $5.8 million this season, and the Orlando Magic had already exercised their option for the 2020-21 season at $7.36 million, a bargain for a combo forward showing growth on the court and also highly regarded in the community for his charity work.
However, the timing of the injury is devastating for the player. Presumably facing surgery and then an arduous rehabilitation process, Isaac almost certainly will miss all of next season. He’s eligible for a contract extension this offseason, otherwise he becomes a restricted free agent in 2021, according to CBS Sports.
Given the circumstances, he’s now unlikely to get full value in any offer from the Magic. And teams that aren’t scared off by a year of inactivity if he becomes a free agent in 2021 will still undervalue him when they make their offers. In short, the injury could easily cost Jonathan Isaac $30 million or more over the next five years.