If it were up to Markelle Fultz, he would’ve been on the floor for the Orlando Magic’s 94-87 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday at Amway Center.
Fultz, the sixth-year guard who’s been sidelined since fracturing his big left toe in September right before training camp started, is no longer wearing a boot and hasn’t experienced pain in his left foot for at least a couple of weeks.
But there are significant steps that need to be taken in his return-to-play process. The main ones: Knowing the fracture has fully healed and getting cleared to do more in practice.
“I feel good, ready to play,” Fultz told the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday evening before the Magic’s third win of the season. “Just waiting on that day to get cleared.”
Fultz didn’t know whether the fracture had fully healed as of Wednesday.
His last scan, which he said was about two weeks ago, showed the toe improved but wasn’t fully healed.
He’s supposed to get another scan this week to see if the bone has healed completely — a significant step before getting cleared.
“I haven’t felt anything for a minute so it’s kind of weird because I didn’t feel anything before my last scan and then it came back it healed some but not to their liking,” Fultz said. “So hopefully this next scan is fully healed and I’m able to get the green light to get a few practices under my belt and go out there and play.”
Fultz hopes to make his season debut “within the next 3-4 weeks” but understands his return to play will depend on the status of his next scan and how he responds to the increased workload.
Once cleared, he’ll be able to ramp up his conditioning and expand his on-court work.
“I’ve been pushing … but the biggest thing is that scan,” Fultz said. “Once that gets cleared, I’ll have a clear view of when I can actually hoop and play. If it was up to me, I’d be playing right now because I don’t feel anything. That scan is going to be a big green light for me.”
Coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters Wednesday that Fultz has been working individually with coaches during practices — shooting, handling the ball and moving around “a little bit.”
Fultz confirmed to the Sentinel what Mosley said, adding that he runs on the treadmill, jumps, moves around on the court and works on his finishing.
“I just don’t do a lot of contact play,” he said. “I’m doing a little contact in my drills but not full. That’s pretty much it. I can pretty much do everything except I’m not doing 1-on-1 or 4-on-4 or stuff like that yet.
“I still [am] cutting, dribbling, shooting, jumping — I just haven’t done it against another player, full-on bumping and stuff like that.”
Fultz stopped wearing the boot last week and was seen going through on-court drills with assistant/skills coach Aubrey McCreary on Monday.
“It was pretty much going off my feeling like let’s try to ramp up some stuff on [the] court and see if you get any irritation and I haven’t last week and this week,” Fultz said about taking off the boot while he waits for the bone to fully heal. “It’s all good stuff. I’m moving in the right direction.”
Fultz is in the second season of a 3-year, $50 million contract ($35 million guaranteed) he signed with the Magic in December 2020.
He has a $16.5 million salary for 2022-23 that’s fully guaranteed, while $2 million of his $17 million salary is guaranteed for the 2023-24 season. Next season’s salary will become fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster past July 1.
Fultz’s injury struggles have limited his playing time (131 games in five seasons) since being the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft.
“I’ve been through so much,” he said. “I understand this process, be patient and listen to your body and when that time comes, just be ready for it.”
He played in just 33 games across the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers because of a nerve issue in his right shoulder that was later diagnosed as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome before being traded to the Magic ahead of the 2019 trade deadline.
Fultz’s healthiest season came with the Magic in 2019-20, when he played 72 games (60 starts) and averaged 12.1 points (46.5% shooting from the field) and 5.1 assists in 27.7 minutes.
He missed most of the last two seasons because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that he suffered in January 2021, just eight games into that season.
After a 14-month absence, Fultz returned in a home win over the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 28 and averaged 10.8 points (47.4% shooting), 5.5 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 20 minutes (18 games).
The Magic have gotten off to a 3-9 start without Fultz, as well as several other players, sidelined entering Friday’s home game vs. the Phoenix Suns.
He’s liked what he’s seen from the team despite the record and is eager to play again while understanding he can’t rush it.
“Of course, I want to play but I don’t want to go out there, break it and then have to get surgery and sit out longer than now,” Fultz said. “My biggest thing now is being smart about and healing all the way so I can play a full season without any more hiccups. And not have any lingering pain.
“It’s tough with my competitive nature and seeing my brothers go out there and play the game, seeing where I can help at and seeing where I can go out there and be with them and not being able to do that. That’s probably the toughest part. I’m just waiting on my opportunity and supporting them any way I can while I’m off the court. When my time comes, best believe I’ll be ready.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.