76ers

A rookie no more, Markelle Fultz set to attack crucial summer

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A rookie no more, Markelle Fultz set to attack crucial summer

You won’t hear a single Sixers player say anything negative about Markelle Fultz and that’s not just because he’s their teammate. It goes much deeper for the rookie.

“Having all my teammates, from T.J. (McConnell) all the way down to the starters, Ben (Simmons), Joel (Embiid), everybody on the team. We talked every day, we had a close relationship,” Fultz said during the Sixers’ end-of-season press conferences Thursday. “It almost felt like I was in college, just being able to hang out with guys off the court, go out to eat and stuff like that. 

“The relationships I built with these guys, they’re life-long relationships now that I have with these guys where they know I have their back and they have my back, so I’m very glad I got a chance to be on this team and be with this group of guys.”

Having that level of support was necessary as Fultz endured one of the most trying first seasons for a No. 1 pick in recent memory.

After being taken with the top overall selection in the 2017 draft, Fultz missed time throughout the summer and training camp with ankle and knee injuries. 

Then came the much-publicized shoulder issue. Whether the guard changed his shooting motion because of the pain or his newfound shot mechanics caused the pain will forever be the chicken-and-egg debate among Sixers fans, but it ended up sidelining him for 68 games.

Fultz was able to finally return and play in 10 regular-season games before dipping his toe into the postseason waters. However, that was short-lived as he saw action in only the first three games of the Miami series and then took a seat on the bench.

You got all of that? Now factor in the 19-year-old had to navigate his way through all of it while hearing questions and criticism every day about whether the organization made a mistake drafting him.

“Obviously I had injuries, I had stuff that I had to get over,” said Fultz, who averaged 7.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 14 regular-season appearances. “It was God’s plan. That’s the way it happened, and I think I dealt with it fine.

“I’ve been going through stuff like this my whole life really, going against the odds and a whole bunch of outside noise. I don’t really look to it. I’m with my team, I’m with family, and that’s all I really care about. All the other stuff doesn’t really matter to me on what other people think or what other people have to say. I’m just worried about how my team’s doing, how my coaches and teammates look at me, and how I look at myself.”

“We had a long chat with Markelle yesterday,” Brett Brown said Friday. “The things that he had to endure this season, we all understand.”

What’s also understood is that even with the flashes of talent Fultz showed during his abbreviated first season and strong support from the front office, he must get better. That starts with an important summer of getting back to being the guy who wowed the Sixers before they took him atop last year’s draft.

“If I were to shrink it, I want him getting back his mojo,” said Brown, who admitted he hopes Fultz plays in summer league again. “I want him playing basketball in a high-level, sort of energized individual instruction.”

Fultz said he plans to “improve on all aspects” of his game this summer to prove he belongs in a Sixers jersey. And after his first professional season ended watching other rookies make an impact on the game's biggest stage, he wants to show he can be the player to push the team to the next tier.

“First of all, those guys did an unbelievable job this year, out there playing as hard as they could and obviously showing you their talents,” Fultz said. “Coming back next year, I think once I join that, it just takes us to the next step. The stuff we did, nobody thought we were going to do. Coming in next year, we have bigger expectations and everything, so I just can’t wait to put my foot on it.”

LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer takes tanking jab at Sixers

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LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer takes tanking jab at Sixers

The Sixers have been minding their own business this summer.

We touched on that earlier this week as players from one Eastern Conference contender after another opened up about how their respective teams were going to reach the NBA Finals (see story).

That’s fine. You would expect those squads to feel confident in their ability, especially now that the conference’s boogie man, LeBron James, has moved on to Hollywood.

But then the Sixers had a grenade lobbed their way from an unlikely source.

Speaking at an event dubbed “The Playbook,” essentially a pep rally for LA Clippers fans to speak with members of the front office, owner Steve Ballmer assured supporters in the crowd that the franchise wasn’t going to adopt a tanking method to get back in contention like the Sixers.

“That ain’t us. Nuh-uh, no way,” Ballmer said, per the Los Angeles Times. “People can do it their way. We’re going to be good our way. We’re not going to show up and suck for a year, two years. I think we got higher expectations on us than the long, hard five, six years of absolute crap like the 76ers put in. How could we look you guys in the eye if we did that to you?”

Wow, OK.

Let’s look at the fact that the Sixers’ history, which includes three championships and a laundry list of some of the game's all-time greats, provided the organization with the leeway to undertake such a massive overhaul in a promise to reclaim the glory days. 

The Clippers, on the other hand, have just 13 playoff appearances in their 48-year history and zero titles. 

But this isn’t to beat up on the Clippers. They had to dig themselves out of the mess former owner Donald Sterling created and it can’t be easy always operating in the “Showtime” shadow cast by the Lakers.

This is more about what exactly Ballmer has accomplished — or hasn’t accomplished — in his brief time running a franchise to take a shot at the Sixers from across the country.

Since paying $2 billion for the Clippers prior to the start of the 2014-15 season (one year after the Sixers started “The Process”), the team has actually taken a wrong turn. In that ’14-15 campaign, they won 56 games and reached the Western Conference semifinals. The 2015-16 season produced 53 wins and a first-round exit. In 2016-17, LA registered 51 victories before bowing out in the first round again. Last season, the Clippers had a 42-40 record (two of those losses came to the Sixers) and missed the postseason.

Plus, in just the past calendar year under Ballmer’s watch, the Clips have lost their big three of Chris Paul (trade), Blake Griffin (trade) and DeAndre Jordan (free agent).

That doesn’t exactly scream team on the rise.

Ballmer may indeed have a plan to make sure the Clippers get back in the hunt. After all, he does have respected basketball minds Jerry West and Lawrence Frank handling front-office business and Doc Rivers still orchestrating things on the sidelines. And L.A., while now missing its star trio, does have some intriguing players on the roster that could surprise a few people.

Still, that collection was projected by ESPN to finish with a 35-47 record in 2018-19 and miss the playoffs again in the stacked Western Conference.

With the Clippers staring a decline right in the face and the Sixers boasting two franchise cornerstones in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons along with other solid pieces from Sam Hinkie’s process, it appears a bit misguided for Ballmer to take such a swipe.

Ballmer might not want the Clippers to tank under his leadership. The thing is, the organization might be forced into that method regardless.

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Sixers hire Lindsey Harding as 2nd female full-time scout in NBA from WNBA

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Sixers hire Lindsey Harding as 2nd female full-time scout in NBA from WNBA

The Sixers have made a historic hire in their scouting department.

The team has hired former WNBA star Lindsey Harding as a full-time scout starting next season. 

"I think when you have this goal in mind, your gender shouldn't even matter," Harding told ESPN’s Ramona Shelbourne. "It should be about if you can do it, if you're good, you're experienced, if you know what you're doing and what you're talking about."

Harding, a Duke product and the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 WNBA draft, is just the second woman to be hired by an NBA team as a scout after a career in the WNBA. Jenny Boucek, who is now an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks, was the first former WNBA player to be hired as a scout back in 2006 by the Seattle SuperSonics. Becky Hammon, one of Harding's former opponents who urged Harding to pursue this path, was hired as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Hammon has since been interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks' GM job and been promoted to Gregg Popovich's top assistant.

Harding completed the NBA's Basketball Operations Associates Program last season after retiring in 2017. The 34-year-old guard spent nine seasons in the WNBA and represented Belarus in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

"Lindsey has quickly become one of the game's bright young minds in basketball operations," Sixers head coach and interim GM Brett Brown said to Shelbourne. "Having graduated from the NBA's Basketball Operations Associates Program last season, Lindsey is applying the same grit and basketball IQ she used as a player in her move to the front office. We look forward to the work Lindsey will do to help grow our program and further solidify a culture of winning.

"It's no secret how much I value the culture we've built in Philadelphia and how much a family-like atmosphere means to our program. Lindsey is a leader, and she is a welcomed addition to the 76ers family. I look forward to working with her."

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