The fans clamored for a point guard, and the Orlando Magic front office finally answered the call moments before the deadline.
The Orlando Magic jumped aboard the Markelle Fultz carousel, hoping to resurrect the playing career of the number one consensus NBA prospect from just over 18 months ago.
“Put it this way, he was the number one pick in the draft,” Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said. “I think his ceiling is exceptionally high. I think he’s a 20-year-old player with tremendous potential and I feel confident in saying the league looks at him that way, not just us.”
A backcourt creator has been the team’s weak link all season. The 26h-ranked offense routinely plummets in D.J. Augustin’s absence, and Jerian Grant has failed to live up to the Magic’s modest expectations.
Augustin affords the Magic the time to be patient. With one year remaining on his four year, $28 million contract, Augustin has been a steady hand in the backcourt. In his eleventh season, Augustin has connected on 42.8% of his threes, and has improved the Magic’s offensive performance by 8.9 points per 100 possessions. In a nutshell, with Augustin on the floor, the Magic’s offense goes from 26th, to 12th.
Grant has not enjoyed success. The offense craters in his presence (-8.3 per 100), and his time with Mo Bamba (out with a stress fracture) has reached deeper disadvantages (-13.6 per 100).
Steve Clifford elected to hand the reins to Jonathon Simmons, but the unit just couldn’t perform up to expectations:
“It’s not like he hasn’t worked at it, he’s been in here,” Clifford said. “I think it’s difficult when you miss a whole offseason like that.”
The Magic had the opportunity this offseason to upgrade the position by utilizing their Mid-level exception or trading for fellow 2017 lottery picks Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina but elected not to. Instead, Weltman is trusting Grant and undrafted point guard, Isaiah Briscoe.
Asked, why now? How did the dialogue unfold? Weltman gave us a glimpse behind the curtain of conversations taking place on the league’s busiest day:
“As you get to the final hours you realize what’s real and what isn’t,” he said. “We were very excited when we saw that this one could be real. We had been looking for an opportunity like this. Like the rest of the league, we were very high on Fultz coming out of the draft, and were very happy when it turned out to be there for us to execute.”
Getting the point guard of the future helps, but it probably comes too late to make a discernible difference this season. Would the Magic have been better suited to challenge for a playoff spot by acquiring a young veteran like Shabazz Napier or Seth Curry? Maybe.
For now, the unit has improved with Briscoe at the helm, and he should give the Magic the patience they need in order to give Fultz the breathing space to find his comfort zone.
“As for the timetable, we’re going to do it right, we’re not going to do it fast,” Weltman said.
Still, the Magic have lost a league-high eight games this season when leading by 15 points or more including two games over 20+, falling apart yet again against OKC this week. The Orlando Magic routinely lose their rhythm and fall into the trap of playing one-on-one basketball, something Frank Vogel continually preached wasn’t the team’s strong suit.
“His skill level, his vision, his competitiveness, this guy has the whole package,” Weltman beamed. “In today’s NBA, to have a physical profile of Markelle Fultz is something that we’re all looking for. Those are the kind of guys that can dominate games these days.”
It’s now 55 games into the 2018-19 season, and the Magic find themselves but 3.5 games from the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. A little jolt of electricity with a high-volume scorer who can create their own shot could give the Magic the late season push they need to secure meaningful playoff minutes for their young core.
“Would it be easier to have a guy you can just give the ball to? Absolutely,” Clifford said when referring to the collapse against OKC. “Absolutely. Or a superstar, absolutely.”
That likely won’t happen this season with Fultz. Managing the complex shoulder injury (thoracic outlet) that has limited him in two seasons has to be the primary concern.
“First, make sure he’s comfortable here,” Clifford explained. “The biggest thing is just to sit down and get a good feel of what he thinks his strengths and weaknesses are. That’s how you start to come to a place.”
New @OrlandoMagic PG Markelle Fultz was in Orlando today for his team physical. Prior to that, he had breakfast with Magic front-office staffers and close friend and former USA Basketball teammate Mo Bamba. Fultz will rejoin the team following this 5-day, 3-game road trip.— John Denton (@JohnDenton555) February 8, 2019
“I can definitely say it’s a high reward,” Weltman closed. “There’s no question. Markelle Fultz was the number one pick in the draft two years ago. It wasn’t a fluke. The whole league had him there.”
So, look away Magic fans!
Fultz is probably not walking through that door to save the day this season. But should he find his comfort this offseason alongside Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon, the Magic may just become the unheralded winners of the 2018-19 trade deadline.
“It’s our job organizationally to put him in a position to succeed,” Weltman said. “However long that takes, that’s how long it’ll take.“