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.”

Fearless Forecast for the Sixers' 2017-18 season

Fearless Forecast for the Sixers' 2017-18 season

It’s time.

The Sixers are ready to tip off their 2017-18 season, and the group has made one goal very clear: reach the postseason.

Will they be able to accomplish the feat, and if so, how will they make it happen?

The real questions will begin to be answered on Wednesday night when the Sixers open the regular season on the road against the Washington Wizards (7 p.m. on ESPN — Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. and Postgame Live after the game on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App).

With that said, let’s get to our season projections from Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, producer/reporter Matt Haughton and producer/reporter Paul Hudrick.

Camerato
The Sixers finish seventh in the Eastern Conference. This was my original prediction back in the summer and it hasn't changed, even with Joel Embiid's tighter minutes restriction to start the season and the uncertainty surrounding Markelle Fultz.

The competition in the East got significantly weaker this offseason with the departures of Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap to the West. The Bulls, Pacers and, following the trade of Dwight Howard, the Hawks have seemingly dropped from playoff contention. That leaves room for three new teams to move up into the top eight.

Last season, only a .500 record was required for a playoff berth and it may be the same this time around. The Sixers have an extremely challenging schedule to start the season, but the second half is Eastern Conference-heavy. That shift should give the Sixers the opportunity to make a push after the All-Star break and lock up a spot.

Projected record: 42-40 (seventh seed)

Harris
Remember January? It wasn't that long ago. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times. The Sixers went 10-5 in their best month and showed glimpses of what they could be once the team gelled and had Embiid driving the bus as he was cleared to play 28 minutes a game. 

I see this season starting off similarly to the last one in that this team could very easily start 4-10 with 10 of its first 14 games on the road. However, with nine of 10 at home following that opening stretch, things can turn in their favor quickly.
 
Since JJ Redick was signed, I’ve said the Sixers are a team that would win 39 games and I'm going to stick to that. I know there will be fans that believe this team is winning 40-plus or even 50 games. I just can't see it. This team will take its lumps early. The number 39 is based largely on the understanding that Embiid may not get to that 28-minute mark until December. Brett Brown has said in the past he envisions Embiid playing 35 minutes a game at some point. That point doesn't appear to be coming anytime soon.
 
The reason the Sixers can still get to 39 games without the training wheels coming off Embiid? The Sixers’ second unit is basically the starting unit that won way more games than most thought it would last year. T.J. McConnell, Dario Saric, Timothe-Luwawu Cabarrot, Fultz, Justin Anderson and Amir Johnson should make up one of the better (not to mention energized) benches in the NBA. Outside of Fultz they've all played starters’ minutes, with McConnell and Saric showing plenty of mettle last season.
 
Of course if Embiid can play 65 or more games and average 28 or more minutes a game, than these expectations can all rise. But let's be pragmatic. Based on what we know, who really expects Embiid to play that much? Not me. But, hey, I'm just a "receiver of information."

Projected record: 39-43 (eighth seed)

Haughton
I hear you, Sixers fans. This is the time you’ve been waiting for. 

All of the losing. All of the injuries. All of the players shuffling on and off the roster (whatever happened to what’s his name?). It’s over.

But this is the NBA, and teams don’t just go from the basement to bathing in championship champagne over night. This will be, for lack of a better word, a “process.”

Getting a healthy Embiid back on the floor was step No. 1. While he doesn’t exactly agree with his playing time to start the season, it’s crucial for him to be on the court. 

The Sixers need Embiid’s production and the attention he draws for others to thrive. That means Ben Simmons has a big man to dump the ball down in the paint to as he adjusts to being a full-time point guard, while Redick and Bayless get open looks off defensive helping/double-teams, and Fultz can ease his way into action off the bench, etc. The trickle-down effect all starts with Embiid.

But while the Sixers finally appear to be getting on the right track, their opponents having been sitting in silence. They have been working to improve as well, mainly the ones the Sixers face up to when the calendar flips to December (21 games). Of those 21 foes, 16 are playoff teams from a season ago.

I do think the Sixers overcome that uphill climb to start the new campaign and reach the playoffs, but it will be far from easy.

Projected record: 40-42 (eighth seed)

Hudrick
I see the Sixers finishing with 41 wins, which I think is good enough for them to earn the seventh seed.

The Sixers will have their struggles early on. There are so many new pieces that need to figure out how to gell. Fultz needs to get healthy and get acclimated to the NBA. Simmons needs to grow into a true NBA point guard. Embiid needs to stay healthy, of course.

With that said, the East is just so weak this season. Three playoff teams lost All-Star players. The Bulls and the Hawks will likely take significant steps backward this season.

The Sixers will get off to a slow start, but a strong finish to the season — including clinching a playoff berth — will build momentum for 2018-19 and beyond.

Projected record: 41-41 (seventh seed)

Best of NBA: Cavaliers win thriller after Celtics' Hayward goes down with injury

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Best of NBA: Cavaliers win thriller after Celtics' Hayward goes down with injury

CLEVELAND -- Boston's Gordon Hayward broke his left ankle just five minutes into the season, a grisly injury that overshadowed Kyrie Irving's return to Cleveland and the Cavaliers' 102-99 win over the shocked Celtics on Tuesday night.

LeBron James scored 29 points -- 13 in the fourth quarter -- in his most extensive action in three weeks because of a sprained left ankle. He also fed Kevin Love for a critical 3-pointer with 46.3 second left to put the Cavs up 102-98.

Irving, who asked to be traded this summer after six seasons in Cleveland, had a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer at the horn but missed. Irving then shared a warm embrace with James, his teammate for three seasons.

Irving finished with 22 points for the Celtics, who overcame an 18-point deficit in the third and led with 2:04 left.

Love had 15 and Derrick Rose 14 in his debut for the Cavs (see full recap).

Rockets rally to spoil ring night for Warriors
OAKLAND, California -- Kevin Durant's baseline jumper swished through the net just barely too late, and the Houston Rockets rallied in the fourth to beat Golden State 122-121 Tuesday on the night the Warriors received their championship rings.

The Warriors had one last chance with 10.6 seconds left and Durant came up with the ball after Stephen Curry had missed. Durant and the Warriors thought they'd won and confetti began to fall when the two remaining officials -- the third got hurt in the fourth quarter -- reviewed the play and said Durant's shot was after the buzzer.

Trevor Ariza's 3-pointer with 2:09 remaining pulled Houston within 119-118 then Patrick McCaw hit a baseline jumper immediately after Golden State's timeout. James Harden made a layup and PJ Tucker hit two free throws with 44.1 to make it 122-121.

Nick Young came off the bench to hit six 3-pointers and score 23 points in a brilliant Warriors debut, Curry scored 22 points and Durant had 20 after a slow start. Klay Thompson added 16 points.

Chris Paul had four points on 2-for-9 shooting in his Rockets debut, while Harden scored 27 points and Eric Gordon 24 for the Rockets. Houston opened the fourth with a 9-0 run to get back in it (see full recap).