76ers

Markelle Fultz guarantees playoffs, talks LeBron James joining Sixers, Lonzo Ball

Markelle Fultz guarantees playoffs, talks LeBron James joining Sixers, Lonzo Ball

Joel Embiid has said it. Charles Barkley has said it. And Markelle Fultz has heard it.

The Sixers will make the playoffs this year. 

And on Thursday at the Sixers' day camp at Valley Forge Military Academy, it was Fultz's turn to utter that one word that Sixers fans haven't heard since 2012: Playoffs

"We’re going to be in the playoffs this year, and I think everybody is willing to put forth their best effort and listen to the coaches and listen to the bench. We've got to just do whatever it takes to get there," Fultz told CSNPhilly. "That’s practicing even harder, that’s doing extra work in the gym by ourselves, I mean, we’re going to do whatever it takes." 

As a newcomer, Fultz hasn't had to suffer through the worst years of The Process like others on the team. But now that things are looking up, Fultz understands the weight of 253 losses in the last four years and thousands of more jokes online hang over the team like a rain cloud. 

"I think we all know that we’re going to go against the odds, really," Fultz said. "Everybody thinks we’re not going to do it, but I think we know we’re going to make mistakes and we’re just willing to work through them."

Last season, the Sixers finished 28-54 and 13 games out of the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference. But with a revamped roster that includes Fultz, a healthy Ben Simmons and the big free-agent signing of JJ Redick, that dark cloud hanging over the Sixers has turned into a perfect storm for the team to grow now and add key pieces in the future.

On LeBron James potentially joining the Sixers
Could LeBron James be one of those future pieces the Sixers need to capture their first championship since 1983?

“Definitely, he would be a great fit," Fultz said. "I think he would be good, somebody else I can pass the ball to. Everybody, I think the whole city will love him, but I mean, at the end of the day you gotta do what you gotta do, but we’ll love to have 'Bron in Philly.

Anyone else on the wish list?

“We’ll take anybody right now, LeBron, Kyrie (Irving). If they want to come, come on. (Carmelo Anthony), anybody.

James can opt out of his contract following the 2017-18 season. He's also raised the eyebrows of Sixers fans everywhere with a back and forth with Simmons. Even Mike Trout has gotten in on the recruitment. 

On expectations for his rookie season
But regardless of what happens next offseason, Fultz is focused on what happens on the court this season. 

“My expectations are really just to give it my all," Fultz said. "I don’t really have any set goals or anything like that. Just play as hard as I can and live with the results. But also, getting us back on the winning side, getting us to the playoffs and everything like that. But in order to do that, you've got to play as hard as you can and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing."

On rehab
Fultz considers himself lucky to even be on the court this season. Fultz had to be helped off the floor in his Las Vegas summer league debut, as the entire city of Philadelphia let out a collective, "Not again." As it turns out, it was just a sprained left ankle, and Fultz appears on track to be a full participant in training camp.

“Rehab’s going real great," the rookie said. "Everybody knows I sprained my ankle, but my ankle’s a lot better thanks to the training staff. I give big props to them, one of the best in the business. ... I’ve been working out. I’ve been jumping, shooting, everything like that, so I’m real healthy, so I’m happy."

Fultz sat out the remaining four games of summer league while rehabbing. 

"Not even being the No. 1 pick, just being a basketball player and having a love for the game, it was bad, really," Fultz said. "Just being out there with my team, of course, it was fun being there with them, but I wanted to play every game. And not just to prove myself, just because I love the game. I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anybody. I think it’s just me going out there and doing what I want to do and have fun and doing what's best for the team. It was disappointing when I got hurt but everything happens for a reason. That’s how I looked at it."

On Lonzo Ball
And of course, that meant missing out on the highly-anticipated showdown with No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball and the Lakers. 

"Me and him are cool," Fultz said of Ball. "I’m pretty sure we’re going to meet each other during the season. The NBA, I think, is going to do a good job of making that happen and I look forward to it. I wish him the best of luck this season, just like I’m pretty sure he does to me, but it’s going to be good. I’m looking forward to it.”

On the hype surrounding the Sixers
When Fultz takes the court for the Sixers' home opener (the regular season schedule has not yet been released), it'll be in front of a sell-out crowd — a rarity the Sixers haven't seen in quite some time. But with the team seemingly on the uptick, Sixers fans have already bought a franchise record number of tickets. The hype is real.

“Definitely, we feel all the hype. You can tell just walking around, everybody knows who you are. Just the hype is real. And I can’t wait to get in the crowd and just hear the packed out, sold-out arena and I think that just fires us. We stand behind our fans, especially me. I love the fans here and I think we’re going to put on a show for them and start winning."

Fultz was able to experience the frenzy surrounding Embiid and the Sixers firsthand in April when he attended a game during the pre-draft process. The Sixers were a longshot to land the No. 1 pick and nab Fultz then, but with some Hinkie-esque maneuvering, the Sixers jumped up to No. 1 to select Fultz in June. From that one game, Fultz knew he was meant to be in Philly. 

"It’s kind of crazy, but at the end of the day, like I said, I think God does everything for a reason. That’s the reason I took that visit, really. People were like, ‘why is he in Philly?’ But you never know what might happen.

"I kind of had a feeling that I was going to end up here. It’s kind of crazy, but I’m just glad it happened, really. I don’t wish I was anywhere else. I think this is the perfect spot for me. A young team, coaching staff is great, the training is great, everything. The fans are the best in the world.”

Joel Embiid doesn't want Sixers to end up like OKC

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Joel Embiid doesn't want Sixers to end up like OKC

Joel Embiid doesn't want the Sixers to end up like the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Not the 2017-18 Thunder, but OKC circa 2011-12.

Embiid is convinced that at some point soon, the media will turn on him and the Sixers. 

Speaking specifically about the core trio of Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, Embiid told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne:

"I think with everything, the main thing we have to do is just stay together because I feel like there's going to be some type of situation where people say who is better between us three. And that's how it splits."

Shelburne, who wrote a long and interesting feature on Embiid this week, told more of the story Wednesday on Zach Lowe's podcast.

She recalled talking to Embiid about his social media presence at All-Star weekend in 2016, when he told her, "I'm just trying to have as much fun before everybody turns on me."

Shelburne pointed out the uniqueness of a then-22-year-old — who had been in the United States just seven years — understanding the "fame cycle" well enough to know that things could soon turn.

"I saw what happened in Oklahoma City with (James) Harden, (Russell) Westbrook and (Kevin) Durant and I don't want that to happen here," Shelburne recalled Embiid saying.

If the Sixers get to that point ... it'll probably be a good problem to have. Just prior to the 2012-13 season, the Thunder traded Harden to Houston in one of the worst trades in recent NBA history. OKC did it for several reasons — salary cap, personalities, only having enough shots to go around. And really, who knows if Harden would have been able to grow into this superstar had he been sharing the ball the next handful of seasons with two other alphas?

Embiid and Fultz have already grown close, and it's important to Embiid that the three young Sixers don't get caught up in the "Who takes the last shot?" conversations or "Who should be the All-Star" questions that inevitably come up. 

Luckily for the Sixers, Embiid, Simmons and Fultz have different enough skill sets that they should be able to coexist. It's not directly analogous to the OKC situation where all three players needed the ball in their hands. The Sixers were built this way for a reason. 

Right now, it's clear Embiid is the alpha of the group. He's the go-to guy in crunch time and again has a top-five usage rate. When Simmons eventually becomes more comfortable with his jump shot and Fultz finally makes his impact on the court, we'll see whether or not Embiid was prescient.

Joel Embiid puts back pain aside to get Sixers 'needed' OT win

Joel Embiid puts back pain aside to get Sixers 'needed' OT win

BOX SCORE

MINNEAPOLIS — Joel Embiid's presence was arguably the biggest factor in the Sixers’ snapping their four-game losing streak on Tuesday.

The center was especially key in the final two minutes of regulation and in overtime, as the 76ers defeated the Timberwolves, 118-112 (see observations).

Embiid assisted on Ben Simmons' go-ahead dunk with 1:17 remaining in regulation and hit the game-tying free throws with 14 seconds remaining. He then scored seven points in overtime, including a three-pointer that gave the Sixers a seven-point lead with 1:39 to go.

Embiid finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds in 39 minutes (see highlights), despite missing the two previous games in Cleveland and New Orleans with back tightness.

"I would not have expected him to play as well as he played or as many minutes as he played," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "… He obviously was massive."

Embiid said he didn't feel 100 percent going into Tuesday's game and added that his back was really tight before the game against New Orleans. He said he didn't have the lift during Tuesday's game that he typically does but that he knew his back would get tight while sitting.

"We needed this," he said of the win.

Embiid’s being in the lineup changes how the 76ers' offense operates, rookie Ben Simmons said. Embiid changes the team's spacing but also gives the Sixers an offensive presence in the post.

"You have to find your spot, but it's a big help also," Simmons said.

Simmons finished with just seven points, as Timberwolves wings Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins guarded him most of the night. However, the rookie was key down the stretch as he scored all seven points in the final 6:17 of regulation and overtime (see highlights).

Brown noted how Simmons ended up with a rating of plus-3 despite the below-average point total. He said he loved that Simmons and Embiid were able to connect for big plays late.

"It wasn't statistically one of his best games," Brown said of Simmons, " … [but] for him to help us get that win on the road, that's a good night."

The win also snapped the Sixers’ recent run of fourth-quarter letdowns. The 76ers trailed by nine with six minutes remaining Tuesday, but they went on a 14-4 run to take a 91-90 lead with 2:17 remaining in regulation. Richaun Holmes completed the run with a three-point play.

Brown said he thought JJ Redick, Simmons and Embiid executed well during that stretch and made note of a three-pointer Redick hit to start the run. 

"To me, that was the tipping point when things started to run," Brown said of the shot.

The coach added that the Sixers will need to cut down on turnovers in order to achieve their goals. The Sixers had a season-high 24, though none came in overtime.