After over 2 1/2 years away from an NBA floor, Jonathan Isaac could make his return to the Orlando Magic tomorrow.
Jonathan Isaac was upgraded to questionable for Monday’s home game vs. the Celtics, league sources told the Orlando Sentinel Sunday early afternoon.
The Magic confirmed the Sentinel’s reporting, upgrading Isaac to questionable on their 2:30 Sunday injury report.
Isaac will be upgraded to available after the team’s Monday pregame walkthrough if everything goes according to plan, the sources added, allowing Isaac to play in his first NBA game since Aug. 2, 2020 — when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the NBA “bubble”.
Isaac’s pastor said during a Sunday morning church service that Isaac was set to return Monday.
His return to the NBA has been anticipated for over 2 1/2 seasons, with Isaac and the Magic taking a patient approach with his rehab.
Isaac has missed the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, and half of this one, with the Magic entering Monday at 17-29. Isaac hasn’t played since tearing his ACL — making it 904 days between his last NBA game and his expected return against the Celtics (35-12).
He hasn’t played at Amway Center since Dec. 30, 2019. His last game outside the league’s “bubble” was on Jan. 1, 2020, in Washington against the Wizards.
Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross are the lone Magic players still with the team since Isaac last played for Orlando.
Isaac hoped to return late during the 2021-22 season after Markelle Fultz returned from his torn left ACL on Feb. 28, but that didn’t come to fruition. The Magic ruled Isaac out for the remainder of last season on March 15.
“Honestly,” Isaac told the Sentinel in early November, “pretty much just ran out of time because I was getting toward the place they were like, ‘Now it’s time to start ramping you up,’ but at that time when Markelle was ready to play, there wasn’t going to be enough time for me to get actual games in. So they were like, ‘We’ll shut it down.’
“We weren’t at the place where they were like, ‘We can ramp up now.’ We were still a little bit of time out. In my mind, I’m like, ‘I can push, I can push, I can push,’ but obviously continuing to want to do it the right way. I really feel like I’m in a good place now. Not having reservations about my body — jumping, bumping, dunking, all that stuff. I feel great and just need a few more weeks to get there.”
The lone setback Isaac had came in mid-March when he suffered a right hamstring injury that required surgery — which happened after the Magic ruled him out for the season.
Isaac participated in half-court contact drills with coaches for “a little while” before the hamstring injury but hadn’t progressed to full-court contact — a key step in the rehab process.
“It’s a process,” Isaac told the Sentinel in late September, adding he knew he’d play this season. “At the end of the day, it’s a timetable. Me getting frustrated isn’t going to accelerate it anymore. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know I’m coming back, I know I’m going to play this season. That’s what I’m holding onto.”
Isaac stayed patient and diligent.
His on-court work progressed from mainly sprinting, jumping, body-contact work and playing one-on-one with coaches in late September to playing full court five-on-five with the coaching staff in late October/early November.
He used the next few weeks to work himself into better shape.
When factoring in the time he was sidelined before the ACL injury, Isaac hasn’t consistently played basketball in almost three full years. He had just recovered from a major left knee injury in January 2020 before tearing a ligament during the league’s restart.
Isaac took a significant step in his return-to-play process when he was first assigned to the organization’s G League affiliate, the Lakeland Magic, for practice purposes on Dec. 6. That Dec. 6 practice with Lakeland was Isaac’s first time playing five-on-five against other basketball players since tearing the ACL. He practiced at least three times with Lakeland in December — Dec. 6, Dec. 8 and Dec. 27.
Isaac said he played five-on-five with his Orlando teammates for the first time on Jan. 2 as part of a pair of Magic practices he fully participated in.
He took another major step on his road back to NBA play when he was assigned to Lakeland on Jan. 10 and suited up for their Jan. 11 129-117 win over the Westchester Knicks at RP Funding Center — his first basketball game in 892 days.
“It was great,” Isaac said. “I’m grateful to the Magic, to Lakeland and to God for me just being back out here. This is a great milestone for me and I’m just glad I was able to do it.”
Isaac had 15 points (6-of-12 shooting), 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in 14 minutes in his return to the court. He played three games with Lakeland, averaging 15.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists in 17.7 minutes.
“He’s responded well,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “Overall, he’s just trying to find what he’s capable of doing and just being able to get out on the floor with those guys. Finding his rhythm. Finding a little bit of a routine in pregames. He’s done a great job of finding himself with that group and understanding what he can do.”
Isaac had 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks in Thursday’s 125-121 road win over the Sioux Falls Skyforce. His 22 minutes were the most he played with Lakeland.
“That’s what’s so great about having that connection with Lakeland and the G League,” Mosley responded when asked if there’s been a benefit of Isaac playing with Lakeland before returning to the NBA team. “Being able to have those guys go over there, play within the same system, get coached in a different light but also understand what it takes to ramp yourself up back.”
The Magic recalled Isaac from Lakeland on Friday. He sat for Friday’s home win over the New Orleans Pelicans and Saturday’s road loss to the Washington Wizards because of return-to-competition reconditioning.
But after 29 months since his last NBA game, the wait for Isaac is almost over.
“I can’t wait,” Isaac said. “Everybody’s thinking about it. I’m thinking about it every second of every day.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.