Jonathan Isaac was back on the court, absorbing contact and adding to the plot of what he says has seemed like something out of Hollywood.
“I feel like it’s a movie,” Isaac told the media regarding the new life his season has been given by the NBA hiatus. “Being hurt and having this whole pause and quarantine to be able to work on my leg, work on my game, and get to where I’m in the bubble now with the team.”
In this movie, Isaac is the main character and the “Will-he-or-won’t-he?” storyline centers around whether or not he will be on the court for games at some point during the Magic’s restart.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “I have no reservations in my mind. If I’m ready to play and I get the clearance, I’m ready to go. That’s pretty much where I’m at. We’re taking it day-by-day. I’m listening to our front office and guys that are working with me each day to get there. So, I’m just taking it one day at a time...I’m definitely optimistic about my chances.”
Each member of the Magic, including Isaac himself, says nothing definitive on his return to the court, but at the same time, refuses to entirely rule out the possibility. Just last week, Magic president of basketball operations said, even with Isaac on site in the NBA bubble, the Magic were “planning on life without Jonathan.”
Yet, there Isaac was on Monday participating in his second workout with contact since the Magic arrived at Disney.
“I felt good,” Isaac said. “My body responded well. I expect to be doing some more contact today, play a little bit, just running up and down and stuff. So, I feel good. I’m getting there, day-by-day.”
Isaac’s availability for the postseason – initially the originally scheduled postseason and now the rescheduled bubble version – has been in question since he suffered a knee injury on New Year’s Day. At the time the Magic announced he would be reevaluated in 6 to 8 weeks. It’s now been over six months.
“In terms of ‘Will he be ready?’ I don’t think we’re gonna know that for, whatever, two or three weeks,” Steve Clifford told reporters Monday. “He’s not able to play five-on-five yet. He’s made great progress. He’s a terrific worker. So, I mean, I couldn’t say enough good things about him, but it’ll be difficult to know for a couple more weeks whether he’ll be able to play.”
Isaac said that while rehabbing he has worked on his jumper and also watched film to improve his basketball IQ. His main focus, though, is simply getting back on the court rather than refining any particular skill.
“Obviously a part of it is getting back, not so much focused on coming out and blowing the doors off anything but just getting my feet wet again and feeling good about it,” he said. “So, I feel like I’m the same player and I’m just continuing to take steps forward.”
Weltman had said last week that, in addition to working with the Magic’s performance staff on site, Isaac primarily was with the team for the experience that benefits a young player and to support his teammates. Isaac agreed that even if he is unable to play, he will try to play a small role in the Magic’s on-court success.
“I would say the same role that I took when I was able to be on the bench: just be a cheerleader for them,” he said. “Find out ways that I can continue to get better. The coaching staff had me scouting games and making sure I was staying engaged with that. So, just doing little stuff like that. Like I said, being a cheerleader for the team, making sure I’m bringing that energy on that bench to will guys to help the team win.”
Added Clifford: “It’s great just having him around. He’s a great person. He’s a great teammate. He’s the kind of guy that brings a lot of positives to your group even when he can’t play.”
Isaac said rehab has been a “grind,” but added that he has maintained the proper mindset to get to work each day and make incremental improvements.
“I try my best to trust [his faith] and wake up with the mindset that I can either get bitter or better, and I truly do my best to get better,” Isaac said. “So, it is frustrating maybe on the day-to-day when you gotta get up when you don’t feel like it and push, grind and press, but I think it’s also rewarding to do it and get up and try your best to get better every day.”