Markelle Fultz was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but didn’t even last two years with the team that took him, the Philadephia 76ers. He was traded to the Orlando Magic in February, who just took a step to ensure that Fultz will be with them longer. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, they have picked up his fourth-year option for the 2020-21 season. That keeps him under contract with the team for two more seasons.
As a No. 1 overall pick, Fultz’s fourth-year option is not cheap. He will be paid around $9.75 million this season, and then $12.3 million the following season. They will have another difficult decision to make after that. Assuming Fultz does not sign an extension next offseason, he would enter restricted free agency in the summer of 2021 with a staggering $24.6 million cap hold. The Magic are currently positioned to have more than $50 million in cap space that summer, but new deals for Fultz, Evan Fournier and Jonathan Isaac would evaporate that space. Renouncing those rights would make Fultz an unrestricted free agent.
In his current state, the Magic could not justify keeping such a massive cap hold on the books in lieu of meaningful space. Fultz has played only 33 NBA games in two years for reasons that aren’t fully clear. He was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome last season, but that is a vague diagnosis that is made largely through the process of elimination. Many have attributed his struggles to the yips, as Fultz was healthy and productive in college.
The Magic acquired Fultz on speculation. In a draft class with young stars like Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell, Fultz was the consensus top pick. He is a tremendous athlete whose speed, in particular, is quite rare even by NBA standards. The mere chance to add that kind of talent, even in a compromised state, was enough for the Magic to take on this financial risk.
Given their status as a small-market team, that isn’t surprising. Orlando is known more for losing superstars like Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard than developing them. With superstars now viewing the presence of other stars as a prerequisite to joining a team, organizations with limited resources like the Magic need to be creative in finding such players if they ever hope to vault into championship contention. That is the motivation behind this decision. They are making a major investment in Fultz in the hopes that he becomes the star the NBA world once assumed he would be because, in their current state, they have no other method of adding such a player.