The Orlando Magic made a deal at the trade deadline and acquired an injured point guard who has completely lost his confidence and may not even play this season — and, yet, Magic management, fans and media members seemed almost giddy on Thursday.
This should pretty much tell you how hungry this team and this town is for hope.
“This is a great deal for the Orlando Magic,” the Shot Doctor said on his afternoon radio show when the Magic acquired 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz in a trade Thursday with the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I like this deal! I like this deal!” longtime Magic broadcaster Scott Anez kept repeating on his afternoon radio show.
“We finally got our point guard of the future!” crowed one of many ecstatic Magic fans on social media.
“Markelle Fultz was the No. 1 pick in the draft two years ago and it wasn’t a fluke,” said Jeff Weltman, the Magic’s President of Basketball Operations. “We believe, at 20 years old, the sky’s the limit for him.”
This deal can best be summed up by that noted NBA analyst Bob Dylan, who once sang: “When you ain’t got nothin; you got nothin to lose.”
The question isn’t why the Magic made this trade for Markelle Fultz; the question is why not? This is the type of deal struggling franchises like the Magic absolutely have to make. When you have limited assets and not much talent, you simply roll the dice and hope you hit the lottery.
Give the Magic credit for this: After seven straight years of losing basketball, Weltman has given the team’s beleaguered fans a glimmer of hope for the future while not really impacting the Magic’s preseason goal of somehow, someway eking into the playoffs.
The fact that the Magic were able to acquire a player of Fultz’s credentials without giving up either one of their top two assets — All-Star center and double-double machine Nikola Vucevic (21 points and 10 rebounds in the Magic’s 122-112 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves Thursday night) and sixth man extraordinaire Terrence Ross (season-high 32 points against the T-Wolves) — is a major win. At this stage of the season, with the Magic still trying to make the playoffs, it’s better if they keep their significant contributors intact rather than reshuffling the lineup at the trade deadline.
“A lot of times, the best trades you make are the ones you never make,” Magic coach Steve Clifford says.
The beauty of the Fultz trade is the Magic didn’t really give up anything of substance to get him. They are taking a low-risk gamble that maybe just maybe Fultz can turn into the point guard the 76ers projected him to be when they moved up in 2017 draft to choose him No. 1.
The Magic are sending struggling forward Jonathon Simmons, a late first-round pick (via Oklahoma City) and a second-round pick to the Sixers for Fultz. If you’re the Magic, a franchise trying to do anything to significantly upgrade their talent level, this is a gamble well worth taking.
“There’s no question this is a high-reward deal,” Weltman said.
Of course, there’s always the chance Fultz could just be a bust who happened to be the No. 1 overall pick. He certainly wouldn’t be the first. Do the names Anthony Bennett, Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi ring a bell? But even if Fultz is a bust, the Magic are on the hook for only one more season of his salary (about $10 million) next year.
Of course, the hope is that Fultz can regain his health and his confidence and thrive in a place like Orlando — a pressure-free environment where he can sink or swim away from the blinding-hot spotlight that scorched him in Philadelphia.
If nothing else, he will make the Magic a little more interesting and a little more relevant. The trade for Fultz had the Magic all over SportsCenter Thursday and was the lead story on ESPN.com for much of the day. The last time the Magic got this much run on ESPN was when the former GM Rob Hennigan’s infamous photograph, which revealed a whiteboard full of potential trade and free agent targets, became embarrassingly public.
At the very least, it will be fascinating to see if Fultz can overcome whatever has sent his career into this massive tailspin. The fact is, nobody knows what exactly happened to this kid. Are his issues physical or psychological? Are his problems in his head or in his shoulder?
He’s played in just 33 games during two injury-plagued seasons in Philadelphia. This season, he hasn’t played in nearly three months because of what his agent said is a nerve issue in his right shoulder diagnosed as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
Is it this medical issue that has caused Fultz to develop a noticeable hitch in his shot and lose confidence in his ability? Or, as some in Philly believe, is it that Fultz has simply developed a basketball version of the yips?
In golf, we’ve seen top players like Ian Baker-Finch and David Duval lose their ability to hit the ball in the fairway. In baseball, we’ve seen once-reliable pitchers like Steve Blass inexplicably lose their ability to throw strikes. And now we have the mysterious case of Markelle Fultz.
“We’re going to do it right; we’re not going to do it fast,” Weltman said when asked the timetable for when Fultz might actually play. “We look forward to getting him in here, getting our arms around him, understanding what he’s dealing with and getting him through that. Our job organizationally is to put him in position to succeed. However long that takes that’s how long it will take.”
Translation: When you ain’t got nothin, you got nothin to lose.