76ers

Confident Markelle Fultz has his swagger back

Confident Markelle Fultz has his swagger back

CAMDEN, N.J. — This was a different person.

Markelle Fultz appeared to be a new man when he sat down at the podium Friday for Sixers media day, and not simply because he’s in better shape and sporting some fresh cornrows.

Fultz exuded confidence from the moment he stepped into the room, which was a far cry from the player that was unsure of himself during a much-scrutinized rookie season.

What a difference a few months can make.

“Everybody knows what happened last year, so this summer was really just me working to get my mechanics back, my confidence back, my swagger back. It was a very productive summer,” Fultz said. “I’m happy with the work I put in with Drew (Hanlen). We put up a lot of shots, a lot of hours in the gym. I’m happy with where I’m at right now going into training camp.”

Happiness was a fleeting feeling for Fultz a season ago. 

Injuries started accumulating right away for the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. Fultz sprained his left ankle during summer league and had right knee soreness during the preseason.

Then came the elephant in the room with the mysterious shoulder issue that forced the guard into that funky shooting motion and a 68-game absence. 

While Hanlen claimed it was actually “the yips,” Fultz, showing just how much more confident he is in himself, swatted down that assertion.

“I think it was a mis-term in words, but me and Drew have talked,” he said. “What happened last year was an injury. Let me get that straight. It was an injury that happened that didn’t allow me to go through the certain paths that I needed to, to shoot the ball. 

“Just like any normal person, when you’re used to doing something the same way each and every day and something happens, of course, you’re going to start thinking about it. It’s just normal.”

Unfortunately for Fultz, what also became normal were the critics. And he’s heard them all.

Broken jumper? Yep.

Inside of his own head? Uh huh.

Bust? You bet.

That was part of the motivation behind Fultz linking up with respected trainer Hanlen and putting in three-workout days that included hundreds of jumpers during each session.

Now looking back on all of the opinions about his game, Fultz actually considers it a positive. Just chalk it as fuel on the fire.

“The adversity I went through last year, I don’t think any 19-year-old ever went through what I went through last year,” he said.

“I normally work hard. I’m a hard worker, but I had a lot of motivation going into this summer. Last year I had an injury that stopped me from being able to be myself 100 percent. So this summer I was really focused on just working hard to get my shot back to how I would like it. Confidence-wise, I’m very confident going in. I’m very excited for this season.”

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NBA trade rumors: Should Sixers be interested in Mike Conley?

NBA trade rumors: Should Sixers be interested in Mike Conley?

One of the Memphis Grizzlies’ core players could have a new home before the NBA trade deadline.

After a long reluctance to talk trade on either, the team will listen to offers on both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Should the Sixers have any interest?

Let’s get this out of the way first: Gasol makes no sense here. You can’t play Embiid and Gasol together in today’s NBA and Gasol is way too good — and makes way too much money — to play off the bench.

Conley, on the other hand, could make sense (it's worth noting that there has been no indication the team is interested as of now). Conley is a solid perimeter defender, a shot creator and a shot maker. He’s played in almost 60 playoff games in his career and has been viewed as a high character player and a leader.

If his entire career wasn’t spent in the Western Conference, he likely would’ve been a multiple-time All-Star. He was an All-Defensive team pick in 2012-13.

There’s a narrative out there that Conley is “always hurt.” That’s not entirely accurate. From the 2008-09 season up until 2016-17, he played in 653 of 738 of his team’s games (88 percent). Last season, he was limited to just 12 games before undergoing season-ending heel surgery. This season, he’s played 46 of 47 games.

With that out of the way, let’s talk finances. Conley has a big cap hit at $32,511,623 followed by an early termination option — which Conley likely won’t exercise — at $34,502,130 for next season. The Sixers could still make it work — at least for this season.

A trade involving the salaries of Markelle Fultz, Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala would get it done (they’d almost assuredly have to add a pick as well and Muscala also has the ability to block a trade). Obviously losing both Chandler and Muscala would hurt the team’s depth, much like the Jimmy Butler deal. But with buyout season coming, the team could pounce on a couple veterans to help fill the holes. Justin Patton's contract plus another small contract could get it done if Muscala blocks the trade.

The other issue is giving up on the 20-year-old Fultz. Since the Grizzlies are moving on from Conley, they could look at Fultz as a piece to help their rebuild alongside big man Jaren Jackson Jr. Fultz has become a polarizing figure in Philadelphia. It’s clear they won’t just give away the former No. 1 pick but is this a deal that makes sense?

The bigger issue comes if the Sixers have interest, are willing to move Fultz and pull the trigger on a deal. Conley is a point guard. He’s been a point guard his entire career. The Sixers already have a point guard and a pretty damn good one at that.

A starting five of Conley, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid is insane. It’d be hard to argue that it wouldn’t be the second-best starting five in the entire league. Could Simmons and Conley coexist? Possibly … if Simmons is willing to play the four. But that’s a pretty big ask considering the guy is likely going to be named an All-Star at the one. 

The idea seems a little short-sighted, like an all-in for 2019 move. With the Warriors looking unbeatable, is it wise to push all your chips to the middle of the table?

It might be smarter to let Simmons develop and work on his shortcomings as a point guard and find other pieces to complement the roster around the deadline and buyout market.

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Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

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Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Coming off one of their best wins of the year against the Rockets Monday night, the Sixers (31-17) will look to keep that momentum going tonight against the Spurs (27-21) at Wells Fargo Center.

Joel Embiid (back tightness) and Ben Simmons (upper respiratory infection) are both listed as questionable. Jimmy Butler (sprained right wrist) is out for the second straight game. Here are the essentials:

• When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7:30 p.m.
• Where: Wells Fargo Center
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

Here are three storylines to watch.

LaMarcus vs. Joel

LaMarcus Aldridge was able to get Joel Embiid off his game in their first matchup of the season in San Antonio. Embiid finished with just 13 points (6 of 17 shooting), 11 rebounds and four turnovers. Aldridge’s length was really effective, moving Embiid off the block and forcing him to take a lot more jump shots than he normally would. Look out for Embiid to make some adjustments tonight.

Belinelli’s return

Tonight will be Marco Belinelli’s first return to Wells Fargo Center to play in front of the Philly fans. While his time in Philly was short, he quickly became a fan favorite as he helped propel the Sixers to the Eastern Conference semifinals. At shootaround this morning, Belinelli told me that he still feels the love from Sixers fans and that their support, especially during the playoffs, was amazing. Look out for an ovation when he checks into the game tonight.

Brewski

Corey Brewer showed up big-time against the Rockets, starting in place of an injured Butler, who sat out with a sprained right wrist. With Butler out, it’s very possible Brewer could get another start. Currently on the ninth day of a 10-day contract, could what Brewer shows tonight impact whether he gets another shot?

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