On the day that Markelle Fultz was traded to the Orlando Magic, he posted a photo to his Instagram story.
It was of Fultz as a young child, wearing an Orlando Magic jersey.
“When I seen that picture,” Fultz said Thursday, “I was like, maybe it was meant to be.”
Markelle Fultz on the photo of him as a kid wearing an Orlando Magic jersey:— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) February 14, 2019
"When I seen that picture I was like, maybe it was meant to be.” pic.twitter.com/6sqOPdtkiU
Fultz had a new Orlando Magic jersey on Thursday, this one with his name and the number 20 on the back, as he held his introductory press conference on Thursday morning.
As for when Fultz will be wearing that jersey during a game for the Magic, that remains a mystery. Fultz, the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft who has played in just 33 games, would not give a time frame when asked.
“Right now, it’s about getting everything the right way,” Fultz said. “Rehab has been going great. I’m taking my time and doing everything the right way so I can get back to being the Kelle that I know I am.”
Fultz said he was rehabbing when he learned that the Sixers had traded him to Orlando, ending a tumultuous season-and-a-half in Philadelphia.
”I just looked at the opportunity in front of me and thought it was perfect for me and my family to get a fresh start,” Fultz said of the trade. “Especially with the team and coaching staff here and organization. I was more than happy.”
Jeff Weltman, the Magic’s president of basketball operations, said that despite the concerns surrounding Fultz, acquiring the 20-year-old point guard was an obvious choice for the Magic and they became very aggressive in their pursuit when recognizing it was a viable option.
“It’s very rare that you get a chance to add a player of Markelle’s ability and character to your team,” Weltman said. “These days don’t happen very often so it’s a good day for the Magic and it means that now we begin the work that goes into getting Markelle where he needs to be.”
“His ability kind of fills up all the places that we look to excel in today’s NBA,” Weltman later added. “His size, his IQ, his vision, his skills. There’s really not a whole lot that Markelle can’t do. And in today’s NBA, where contact is called so tightly, the ability to get into the paint and work from the inside out, as Markelle’s game develops, as his body develops, as his experience level develops, there’s not going to be too many things in a game that he can’t do. And to have that in a person you trust to be a quarterback, to think of others, to bring a team together, that marriage is something that you just don’t see very often.”
It’s a marriage that Magic fans hope will be a long-lasting and prosperous one, with Fultz serving as the team’s point guard of the future.
It’s Markelle Fultz time in Orlando! pic.twitter.com/OM7ZaGV1lH— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) February 14, 2019
Fultz spent one season at the University of Washington, averaging 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 47.6 from the field and 41.3 percent from three. The Sixers were so enamored with him that they traded up to draft him.
Fultz, though, went on to play in just 33 games for Philadelphia, averaging 7.7 points and 3.1 assists while shooting just 41.4 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from three. With Ben Simmons as the team’s lead ballhandeler, and with Fultz having not played since November and his future remaining a mystery, he became an expendable piece for a Sixers team with championship aspirations.
He was traded to Orlando for Jonathon Simmons and draft picks just before the trade deadline.
For a Magic team currently starting D.J. Augustin, a 31-year-old career back-up, at point guard, and with little depth behind him, the addition of Fultz offers hope of a long-term solution.
“I think he can be a dynamic two-way player,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “I’m not sure there is an aspect of the game he can’t excel at. Particularly in playoff series, you’ve got to have guys who can play both ways. The other part of it, to be really really good, you’ve got to be able to guard your position. I actually think he can guard ones and twos going across the league, which is a huge advantage because its gives you flexibility with who he can play with, which makes a big, big difference both over 82 games and in a playoff series.”
Fultz was also complimentary of his new coach.
“I think it just excites me that I have a coach that is going to push me to be better, and not just gonna tell you what you want to hear,” he said of Clifford.
There will certainly be room for improvement for Fultz, who developed shoulder issues, seemed to alter the form of his shot, and was later diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. Through it all, though, Fultz said he never lost confidence in himself.
“I had an injury,” he said. “I was out there trying to play through that. I never lost confidence. I love this game dearly. I’ve worked so hard to get here…I’m just working to be healthy and everything right now. I’m great.”
Fultz said the injury is hard to describe, but it makes it difficult to raise his arms at times and causes tingling in his fingers. He said it was a relief to find out that he had TOS, which he said is often difficult to diagnose.
“It was a matter of finding what was going on,” he said. “Once I did that, it was a big relief. Just like anything, if you roll your ankle or do something and it’s aching, once you find out, you’re going to be way happier once you know you can work out for it. And me, I’m all about hard work. Once I figured out what was going on and what I needed to do, it was full speed at doing that.”
Magic fans now eagerly await Fultz’s return to the court. Though he couldn’t put a timeframe on a return, Fultz did deliver a message to Magic fans when asked.
“All I can assure you is you got a young guy who is going to come in here and work hard every day, push his teammates, love his teammates, love the organization and give his best every time he steps on the court,” Fultz said.
A change of scenery, Fultz said will help him. His arrival, he added, seems to have already sparked the Magic, who since the trade have won four straight games for the first time since 2015.
“Already I think the team is 4-0 since I got traded,” he said, drawing laughter from the media. “So, they’re headed in the right direction. I feel like it’s just the energy going through, and I just feel happy. I’m really excited for the team. I know a lot of the guys, which is really cool. I just think it’s going to be fun. These guys are amazing. I feel like I’m at home already and I just can’t wait.”
As Fultz said, maybe it was meant to be.