This is arguably the most hyped preseason opener in Orlando Magic franchise history.
Some might say it was the Magic’s first game back in 1989 when they defeated the defending champion Detroit Pistons before a packed house at the O-rena. Others might say it was Shaq’s debut. Some might argue it was when we dreamed of Tracy McGrady paired with a healthy Grant Hill. Or maybe it was when Dwight Howard and company were taking the court for the first time since the 2009 NBA Finals.
This game, with the Magic heading to San Antonio to unofficially begin the 2019-2020 season, is at least in the discussion. And that is thanks to Markelle Fultz.
Since Orlando acquired the former No. 1 pick from the Philadelphia 76ers in February, we’ve analyzed and agonized over when Fultz would finally be on the court in a Magic uniform. That day has finally arrived.
Fultz will make his Orlando debut, adding to what was already a highly-anticipated opener following the Magic’s first playoff berth in seven years.
It’s must-see TV that, oddly enough, won’t be on TV.
Sadly, what would have been a highly-rated game in Orlando will not be televised, a decision that was perhaps by design as the organization brings Fultz along slowly and without expectation or pressure.
That leaves Magic fans, Sixers haters, and those just curious to see Fultz’s form on his first in-game jump shot, scrambling to find a stream of the game. Or if all else fails, going old school and listening to the game on the radio.
It will be the first time that Fultz plays in an NBA game since November 19, 2018, one of just 33 games he has played in during the first two years of his NBA career. That was just before his saga in Philadelphia took a strange twist and he was later diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome.
The Markelle Mystery continued after the Sixers traded him to Orlando for Jonathon Simmons and draft picks. No timetable was announced for his return, updates were strategically vague, videos of Fultz on the court with surface but with no explanation of how recent the footage was.
The Magic’s confidence in Fultz became apparent in the offseason as they opted against upgrading their backcourt depth in the draft or free agency and later picked-up Fultz’s $12.3 million fourth-year option. Still, all was quiet on the Fultz front until the Magic held a pre-Media Day event last week to say that he would be a full participant at training camp. Then came the hype video...
In case you were wondering what Markelle's been up to... pic.twitter.com/3RE39oLN51— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) September 25, 2019
While the Magic’s approach in handling Fultz had been to preach patience and temper expectation, there has been nothing but high praise for 21-year-old point guard coming out of Orlando.
“He’s going to shock people,” said starting point guard D.J. Augustin, who in a perfect world, will eventually become Fultz’s back-up.
“He can definitely be great for us,” said All-Star Nikola Vucevic, who could further benefit from having a playmaker and penetrator like Fultz.
“He looked damn good,” said Hall of Famer Tracy McGrrady after visiting Magic practice this week.
Every move Fultz makes on Saturday, even if in what I expect would be limited minutes, will be over-analyzed — from his first dribble, to his first drive, to his first shot, to his first free throw. But more important than any stat in the box score will be Fultz’s comfort level on the court and how Steve Clifford experiments with Fultz’s usage and lineup pairings as the preseason progresses.
Fultz will steal the spotlight, even if he plays just 10 minutes and takes but two shots, but there are many other intriguing storylines surrounding the Magic. Mo Bamba returns to the court after having his rookie season cut short because of a stress fracture in his leg. The Magic’s $100 million man Nikola Vucevic kicks off the follow-up campaign to his first All-Star season. Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon will look to further establish their offensive games (Isaac with a consistent outside shot and Gordon in the post) as pundits await “the leap” from each.
And as a team, how do the Magic build on their playoff season?
We get our first look tonight. If somebody can find a way to watch.