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The mystery of Markelle Fultz and his return

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Fultz won’t play in Summer League and a timeframe for his return remains unknown

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Markelle Fultz’s latest Instagram story includes video of him wearing an Orlando Magic shirt as he stands on the practice court hardwood.

As far as Fultz updates go, that’s about the norm. There are few details, leaving fans to speculate when Fultz will actually step on the court for competitive play.

We don’t really have a clear understanding of his injury, we don’t know what his rehab consists of, we don’t have a timetable for his return. We get updates that say a lot without actually saying anything at all.

It’s all part of the Markelle Mystery.

And it’s understandable to a degree. The Magic front office doesn’t want to put pressure on a 21-year-old kid who’s recovering from an ailment that has taken a physical and perhaps psychological toll. The Magic will be patient. Fultz will be handled with care. Orlando fans will be overeager. Each with the best intentions in mind for the franchise long-term.

The problem is that Fultz, a former top overall pick who’s already a popular target for talking heads in the media after his peculiar fall from grace, is garnering national attention that ultimately could be counterproductive to the whole “no pressure” strategy. The lack of clarity surrounding Fultz’s status keeps the story relevant, brings more attention, and raises more questions.

It makes the mystery more mysterious.

Magic General Manager John Hammond made headlines earlier in the week when discussing Fultz during his radio interview on 96.9 The Game. Hammond was asked what can be expected of Fultz during Summer League, if anything.

“He will not play in Summer League with us,” Hammond said. “We didn’t think there was any way that he was going to do that, we didn’t plan on him doing that. So probably not the place for him right now. But overall, I can say that he is doing well. The most important thing for him right now is, one, that he is in the gym, and two, that he has energy with him.”

It was another indication that when it comes to Fultz, the Magic are preaching patience and silence. Updates are super vague, lacking concrete details that make an update an actual update. Take this Orlando Magic Instagram post that highlights progress and excitement, for example…

View this post on Instagram

Update on Markelle❗️

A post shared by Orlando Magic (@orlandomagic) on

The Magic, from their front office to their social media team, are trying to placate and excite a fanbase while also nurturing a player they believe could be a valuable core piece. It’s a difficult balance that will test the patient of those invested in the team. That comes from an anticipation Magic fans have for a player they fully support and want the best for.

As expected, when the Magic’s 2019 Summer League roster was announced on Tuesday, Fultz was not on it. We knew it was coming after Hammond’s comments, but it was still a disappointment given that many thought Summer League would be an ideal platform for Fultz to gauge where he is in his rehab. There, playing limited minutes in a pressure-free atmosphere where games have little meaning, he could have showcased his progress to a Magic fanbase (myself included) that salivates over any Fultz-related crumb they are tossed.

When Fultz posted a Snapchat video where he was showing off his impressive handle and converting acrobatic layups, there was no reference as to how old the video was, leading many (again, myself included) to assume it was recent...

It all adds to the mystery.

“He is working extremely hard,” Hammond told 96.9 The Game. “He is in good shape. His weight is good. His overall body fat percentage is very good. So, if you look at him you say, ‘Wow! He looks great.’ So, it’s just a matter of him continuing to get more comfortable, continuing for him to get himself in a position where he is ready to step on the floor and help us. You know, look, we have no idea when that is going to be. We’re hoping much, much sooner than later. But, once again, we try to do this the best we can and that is to have that word of patience. That is not easy for a lot of people. But for us, we look at Markelle and the guy just turned 21 I think maybe less than a month ago. We want to have patience with him and get him ready and put him on the court when he can be most productive.”

Those comments made their way onto ESPN’s Get Up on Wednesday morning, leading Jay Williams to say “I don’t think anybody knows” what’s going on with Fultz, and Jalen Rose to proclaim that “This is the most bizarre thing we have ever seen from a number one overall pick in the Draft.”

When the Magic acquired Fultz in February, we speculated over if he would play before the end of the regular season. When he didn’t, we wondered if he would play in Summer League. Now that he isn’t, we are left wondering if not now, then when? Training camp? Preseason? Start of the regular season? After the All-Star break?

It’s entirely possible that, as Hammond said, the Magic truly have no idea when the point guard will be back on the court. And it goes without saying that Fultz’s health takes priority over the fan’s needs. But it’s time for the Magic to provide something definitive on Fultz rather than saying the now organizational-wide buzzwords -- progress, excited, working hard, etc.

“Markelle is in Orlando and he’s working out and he’s committed,” Jeff Weltman, the Magic President of Basketball Operations, recently told reporters. “He’s two feet in. I won’t drill down on details, but he continues to make progress and he’s here with out coaches, and we’re very excited about where he is right now.”

It’s the details that Weltman referenced but let out that Magic fans truly want.

If the Magic feel that a timeframe for a return could put undue pressure and expectations on Fultz, simply providing specifics on what exactly Fultz is or isn’t doing in his rehab will suffice. A fanbase shouldn’t be left to wonder if a basketball player is, you know, shooting a basketball.

And yet, it remains a mystery.