Guard Markelle Fultz was enjoying the best start of his fledgling career when disaster struck Wednesday night. And with it comes the reality that the Orlando Magic will have to scrap and fight harder than they could have previously imagined if they want to contend when the NBA playoffs arrive.
The season is over for Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz
Orlando Magic point guard Markelle Fultz will miss the remainder of the NBA season after tearing an ACL early in the Jan. 6, 2021, victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Fultz’s left knee gave out as he planted on a drive to the basket against the Cavaliers’ Isaac Okoro at the 7:35 mark of the first quarter.
Fultz shrieked in pain as he fell to the floor, then clutched his knee. Medical staff took him to the Magic’s locker room in a wheelchair. A subsequent MRI revealed the ACL tear.
There is never a good time for a serious injury, but this setback is a blow to Fultz and the Magic because of the timing on two fronts:
- Orlando is unlikely to find a trade partner for now to bolster the roster. The Magic may be sitting at 6-2 in the early going, but even most of the early bottom feeders will be reluctant to give up an asset so soon without charging a premium.
- If the NBA gets back to its traditional start date of late October next season, Fultz won’t yet be back to 100%. The fact that this was a non-contact injury should give both him and the team pause at the prospect of rushing back.
Markelle Fultz just cannot catch a break
Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz was off to his best start as a pro before his season-ending knee injury. All of 18 years old when he began his one-and-done year at the University of Washington and averaged 23.2 points, Fultz went on to be selected No. 1 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2017 NBA draft.
There was no instant NBA success for Fultz, who played a total of 33 games in his two seasons with Philadelphia. Shoulder discomfort that affected his shooting motion derailed his rookie season. He returned late in the season and had the distinction of becoming the youngest player in NBA history to post a triple-double.
Fultz was presumed to be healthy at the start of the 2018-19 season but quickly lost his starting spot to Jimmy Butler, acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Not long afterward, Fultz went back on the shelf pending more extensive consultations with doctors to get to the root of his health issue. That finished Fultz’s season, and the 76ers traded him to the Orlando Magic.
Finally, doctors determined that Fultz’s problem was thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve ailment that affected the feeling in his arm. At last healthy, Fultz appeared in 60 of 72 games last season, averaging 12.1 points and 5.1 assists to go along with 46.5% accuracy from the field. His solid work continued in a first-round playoff series loss, and the Magic made a big commitment to their guard.
A $47 million blow for the Orlando Magic
Markelle Fultz was still on his rookie contract and due to make $12.29 million this season when he reached an agreement on a contract extension with the Orlando Magic on Dec. 21, 2020. Fultz is guaranteed an additional $35 million over three years. There is $15 million more if the team picks up the option for the third season of the extension. Combined with this season’s salary, Orlando is on the hook for a little more than $47 million regardless of whether Fultz can make it all the way back from the latest injury.
At least Fultz has the guaranteed money to fall back on. That wasn’t the case when teammate Jonathan Isaac was injured over the summer.
Isaac, selected sixth overall by the Magic in the same draft as Fultz, was supposed to be shut down by a knee injury before the pandemic brought the NBA to a halt for 20 weeks last March. With the additional recovery time, Isaac rejoined the Magic at the NBA bubble.
Isaac posted 16 points and six rebounds in just 16 minutes during his first game back. Two days later, however, he blew out an ACL. As was the case with Fultz, it was a non-contact injury to the left knee. At the time, Orlando had already exercised a $7.36 million option for this season but had no obligations beyond that, meaning that Isaac likely faced a huge financial blow.
On the eve of the current season, the Magic put aside the fact that Isaac will not play this season and awarded him a four-year, $69.9 million extension. While only $22.3 million is guaranteed, according to Spotrac.com, it’s a nice safety net for a promising young player.