‘Light at the end of the tunnel’ for Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic

'Light at the end of the tunnel' for Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic are a big mystery.

They are a young team that is just dotted with talented players that have not proven themselves in the league. Optimistic fans who see a team that could suddenly burst and develop into a playoff team this season are just as correct as the more cautious fans that expect more modest improvements as this team learns to win.

There is just so much in the air.

Nothing is probably more up in the air than the return of Jonathan Isaac from a two-year absence recovering from a torn ACL.

That wait may be getting closer to an end. Whether the Magic will have Isaac when they open training camp on Sept. 27 (media day has been announced for Sept. 26 at the new AdventHealth Training Facility) is still a mystery. But that day is coming soon.

Jonathan Isaac is the biggest mystery for the Orlando Magic. His two-year recovery from a torn ACL is coming closer to an end.

Jonathan Isaac spoke to Dan Savage of OrlandoMagic.com after making a surprise appearance at Orlando Magic Basketball Camp and said he feels he is making good progress.

There is a pervasive feeling of optimism surrounding Isaac:

“The light is at the end of the tunnel now,” Isaac said. “I’m feeling great. I can see it and I’m just pushing every day.”

Those are some encouraging words. Although Isaac has publicly been more optimistic about his return than the Magic are. Although he too has been unwilling to put a timeline on things.

To be sure, this is no timeline either. And the Magic while always portraying hope he would be ready for training camp have never committed to that timeline.

His recovery has been shrouded in complete mystery. The Magic, notoriously quiet and patient with players recovering from long-term injuries have been even quieter with Isaac.

The only real announcement — the decision to shut him down for the rest of the season after this year’s trade deadline as he ran out of “runway” to ramp up to play — was followed by some awful luck.

On the same day Jonathan Isaac and president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman addressed the media about his injury status, Isaac hurt his hamstring and would require what the team labeled as minor surgery. Hamstring injuries are not uncommon for players recovering from ACL tears, but it was a setback.

The word from the Magic throughout the summer was that Isaac was now spending his summer trying to get back to where he was before his injury. Orlando again put no timetables on his return.

On top of that, Weltman has emphasized they want to be cautious with ramping up Isaac because it has been two years since he last stepped on an NBA floor. The two-year anniversary of his torn ACL from the second seeding round game in the NBA’s Bubble to end the 2020 season passed last Tuesday (Aug. 2).

Orlando was cautious with bringing Markelle Fultz back despite his bursting at the seams. It seems like the team will do the same with Isaac, likely bringing him off the bench for much of the season and managing his minutes.

Orlando is certainly plenty loaded at his position now with Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Chuma Okeke on the roster. The team Isaac is rejoining this year is completely different than the team he left in the NBA’s bubble.

Still, there is no doubt that Isaac provides a ton of potential for the team.

He was one of the top defenders in the league in the 2020 season and that remains a skill that entices about Isaac. As Isaac joked during his interview with OrlandoMagic.com, the Magic might be the longest and tallest team in the league.

Everyone is on this joke about the Magic and their draft strategy.

But it is still unclear whether Isaac will be able to get all the way back to that level. He certainly showed he can put in the work while rehabbing, returning from a different knee injury in the Bubble and showing a much-improved 3-point shot.

His potential and talent are all still there.

But the Magic have no clue what to expect when he does get on the floor. The team is still developmentally in a spot where it can put Isaac on the floor and let him experiment and see where he fits. There is no immediate pressure to win with this young team.

But like everyone else, Isaac will have to figure out where he fits. And the Magic will have to figure out where he fits.

His contract situation is in some flux with his contract becoming non-guaranteed for the remaining years. There is some pressure to perform and make progress, especially as the Magic map out their future. This season feels like one where the team evaluates its overall direction and starts to take steps in that direction.

The first thing though is for Isaac to take the floor and return. Orlando owes it to him to give him his chance to feel his way and recover. It usually takes a full year after returning for a player to get all the way back to their pre-injury status.

Isaac will have his good days and his bad days as he returns. And everyone has to understand this as they evaluate his play. The struggles will be especially poignant because Isaac has been out for so long. It may take him longer to fully recover once he hits the court.

But at least one mystery seems closer to getting resolved.

Isaac sees the end of his long recovery on the horizon. And that brings all these questions to light. They are a lot better than the question of when he will return.

For the first time in a while, it does not sound like if, but when.

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