76ers

Markelle Fultz describes injury, reflects on time with Sixers, makes odd comment about coaching

Markelle Fultz describes injury, reflects on time with Sixers, makes odd comment about coaching

The Markelle Fultz mystery has migrated to Orlando.

And though many questions still remain unanswered, we got more insight into Fultz’s situation from the former No. 1 pick himself Thursday at his introductory press conference.

Flanked by Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and head coach Steve Clifford, Fultz took questions from reporters in Orlando about his diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome, what excites him about joining the Magic, and his time in Philadelphia.

His thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms 

For the first time, we got to hear from Fultz about his thoracic outlet syndrome. He said his rehabilitation is “going great” and that he’ll continue working in Los Angeles. Fultz didn’t directly answer questions about a timeframe or when he expects he’ll be able to shoot without discomfort.

It’s really hard to describe, hard to explain to people. It’s almost like hard to lift up your arms. You lose feeling in your fingers. It’s not really like you can tell when it’s going to happen. It’s not like you can do the same motion every time. You get tingling in your fingers, numbness, stuff like that. It was hard to describe. It’s tough, because you hear all this stuff about this, that and the third, but you know something’s wrong and you’re trying to figure it out. It was just hard to describe to a lot of people. If you’ve never been through it, you’re not going to really know. But if you talk to anybody who has TOS, they’re going to tell you it changes your life [dramatically].

‘Not just tell you what you want to hear’

He didn’t say it with anything approaching a malicious tone, but one of Fultz’s comments about why he’s looking forward to joining the Magic could be perceived as a shot at Brett Brown and the Sixers’ coaching staff.

“I think it excites me to have coaches that you know are going to push you to be better,” he said, “and not just tell you what you want to hear.”

Brown had only 33 games to coach Fultz, but he had to cope with plenty of off-court drama during Fultz's year-plus in Philadelphia. Brown inserted the 20-year-old into the starting lineup for the first 15 games of this season, during which Fultz averaged 9.0 points on 41.2 percent shooting, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The Sixers were 9-6 with Fultz as a starter.

Brown reflected Friday on his feelings upon hearing Fultz had been traded.

I’d be lying if I didn’t feel sad. It was two emotions I had. Sad personally, selfishly I suppose. And that I never really felt like I got a chance to coach him. I never really feel like this city got a chance to see him. I felt sad for that. And I was pleased for him that he had a new start, a fresh start, another opportunity. 

What Fultz learned from the Sixers 

With the possible exception of the comment about now having coaches who are going to push him, Fultz was very complimentary of his time with the Sixers.

“I learned a lot, both from being on the court and off the court," he said. "Going to the playoffs last year, I learned about how physical it was. I was fortunate enough to see the game and be in the atmosphere. 

“Had great vets around me. Just learned that it matters — every practice matters going into the season. It’s a long season, but you go day by day. You just take it as profesionally as you can, but also have fun with your teammates. And the closer your team is, the better you’ll do.”

Fultz’s allure 

Weltman and Clifford both had high praise for Fultz’s potential. Weltman went as far as saying, “For us, this was an obvious choice.”

The Magic are enticed by the possibilities with Fultz, just as the Sixers and so many talent evaluators were in 2017.

“As Markelle’s game develops, as his body develops, as his experience level develops, there’s not going to be too many things in a game he can’t do,” Weltman said. 

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There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

After dropping their second straight game in overtime Friday night in Oklahoma City (see observations), the Sixers at times sounded like a team looking for answers.

More of that is likely struggling to answer questions coming off another brutal loss. They have an idea why they’ve lost five of their last seven after starting their season 5-0. A large part of it is a group with a bunch of new faces that are still figuring each other out. On Friday, fouls were an issue as they allowed the Thunder to attempt 41 free throws.

For a team that has championship aspirations and got off to such a hot start, this isn’t where they expected to be 12 games into the season.

“Obviously we're frustrated,” Tobias Harris said to reporters postgame. “7-5 is not where we want to be. It's early in the season and right now we're going to progress and get better and figure out ways that we can help each other and help our team and go from there. This game is over. Tomorrow, we'll watch film on it, we'll find out which ways that we can better ourselves and be ready for the next game. [We’re] 7-5 right now but ... we'll just go into the next game and be ready to get that win and go from there.”

There are reasons for optimism — with Harris being arguably the biggest.

After missing 23 straight threes and looking lost recently, Harris splashed his first trey of the game and looked like a totally different player. He finished with 21 points on 8 of 16 from the field and 3 of 4 from three. He was much more aggressive and decisive than he’d been in the previous two games.

Josh Richardson, returning to his native Oklahoma, has continued to show signs of improvement. He poured in 28 points, his highest total as a Sixer. More importantly, he’s looked much more comfortable in the offense as he figures out his role.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both had their moments. Embiid had a game-high 31 points and Simmons broke out after a quiet first half to play the entire second half.

One of the team’s biggest issues is figuring out the pairing of Embiid and Al Horford. The reality is Horford has never played with a center like Embiid who demands the ball and attention offensively. It’s been an obvious adjustment for Horford, who shot just 5 of 12 Friday and has done most of his damage with Embiid off the floor.

The uncomfortable offensive fit for the entire starting five has been a big reason the Sixers have been involved in so many close games. A familiar theme emerged Friday, as the Sixers held a nine-point advantage with 7:20 to go in the game. Instead of hitting the gas and putting the Thunder away, they gave up a 12-2 run and saw their lead evaporate.

These are talented players that have won in different places. They’re still learning how to win together.

“I was just telling Al about that,” Harris said, “and really it's just I think a matter of right now we are yet to be up like eight points and push that to 15 and really push what we're doing and move forward with that, and really imposing our will and dominating. And that's something that we have to get to and that's something I think we're still learning — how we can do that and how we can make those type of runs. That's something we definitely got to get better at.”

The good news is you see the talent and recognize some of the issues.

And Brett Brown has 70 games to figure it out.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

They know the problems, now they just have to answer the questions.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Brett Brown's decision to have Furkan Korkmaz play key minutes in overtime, using more pick-and-rolls with Joel Embiid, and the loss to the Thunder.

• Should Brown have gone to Korkmaz when Tobias Harris fouled out in overtime?

• Do the Sixers need to rework their offense?

• The starting lineup looked good at times, but what went wrong in OKC?

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