Until he is no longer a 76er, I will hold the belief that Markelle Fultz will come out on the other side of this strange saga reverted back to the promising prospect guard that came out of Washington.
But I understand the other 95 percent of NBA fans who have written Fultz off as a bust just one and a quarter seasons removed from being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. With NBA reporter David Aldridge reporting Fultz would not play until seeing a shoulder specialist, the cause for concern is at an all-time high.
It seemed as though Fultz was starting to find his confidence and way back to his former self before the Jimmy Butler deal – constantly slashing towards the hoop, playing solid defense with his long arms and, most importantly, showing some semblance of a shooting form unperturbed by the weirdest shoulder injury ever.
Even Amari Cooper made fun of it.
At this point, it seems certain that this isn’t any ordinary shoulder injury. Whether it’s the yips or a mental health issue, something obviously isn’t right with Fultz’s head. That’s what has made the response from Philadelphia fans, notoriously known for booing Santa Claus and every player who doesn’t perform, so special. Until recently, they have stuck by Fultz and happily cheered everything he does on the court, hoping to turn his morale upside down.
Now, however, those cheers have almost all turned sour towards the DeMatha product in recent weeks. The latest move in a saga filled with uncertainty and dishonesty from Fultz’s camp has pushed Sixers fans to the edge. The Athletic topped it off with a report saying he now prefers to start fresh with another team, and that his wrist has also been ailing.
If Fultz actually requested a trade, that would be heartbreaking. It hasn’t been just the fans who have invested so much into seeing Fultz succeed, but also the Sixers management. Former president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo, who was fired after allegedly using Twitter burner accounts to attack his players, traded the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft and Sacramento’s 2019 first-rounder for Fultz. Head coach Brett Brown has tried tirelessly to tie Fultz in with the offense, and a trade request would betray all of Philly’s hopeful investment.
Philadelphia sits at 14-8 and the third spot in the Eastern Conference, have a core trio of Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and are ready to take the league by storm for the next several years.
What I have a problem with is when people complain that Fultz needs to be moved as soon as possible because the team is in “win-now” mode after trading for Butler, as if the end of this season needs a title or it’s a bust. Not only are we three years removed from that infamous 10-win season, but the Golden State Warriors have won three out of the past four championships and have have still yet to showcase the league’s best starting five.
The Warriors are miles ahead of Philadelphia, even if they don’t feel like trying during the regular season. The Sixers may not even be in the tier of contenders as of yet, still needing a few surrounding pieces to complement their stars after losing key contributors Robert Covington and Dario Saric in the trade for Butler. Still, it’ll be every bit as difficult to get out of the East with a far deeper Boston and a more cohesive Toronto in the way.
That’s why it’s important to realize that this season shouldn’t be title or bust, and the implications that come with that. Injury-prone in his first few seasons, Embiid’s minutes are far too high to sustain this MVP-level season he’s been having so far.
Similarly, it’s in the Sixers’ best interest to keep giving Fultz a chance. A trade now would throw away everything they’ve invested in him so far, likely for not much in return. With as low as his trade value currently, Fultz needs to play well enough before the February deadline.
But if he ups his trade stock to garner a respectable trade before that deadline, the Sixers might as well keep him. He’s got the perfect skill set to fit right along with the star trio they’ve got in place.
I know it’s probably too much to ask of other fans, but I’m all-in on Fultz until he’s officially out as a 76er.