CAMDEN, N.J. — At this point, after all the confusion; the diagnoses; the shaky cell phone video of ugly after-practice jumpers; the hundreds of thousands of shots of remedial work; the deleted tweet from a trainer; the pump-fake free throw; and, most recently, the upcoming consultation with an outside specialist, the notion that there is some sort of unified team supporting Markelle Fultz is ludicrous.
There are countless parties trying to help Fultz, the No. 1 overall draft in the 2017 draft. As a result, Fultz and the Sixers find themselves in a bizarre, perplexing position.
Yet after Tuesday’s news that Fultz will be sidelined until his appointment with a shoulder specialist in New York on Monday, as recommended by his agent Raymond Brothers, head coach Brett Brown insisted that Fultz has a cohesive support system.
“I think that there has been, for the most part, a linear, consistent messaging that his sort of Team Markelle, from family to agent to coach to GM, that we’ve all tried to collaborate and point it to an end game, a clear sort of objective, a clear path,” Brown said. “For the most part, I think we’ve done this.”
All the evidence points to Brown’s assertion being false. Both Brown and general manager Elton Brand admitted they were caught off guard by Brothers’ recommendation that Fultz see a specialist.
On Nov. 6, after a deleted tweet from trainer Drew Hanlen that indicated Fultz still wasn’t healthy, Brown said, "To the best of my knowledge, he’s healthy enough to go do what he’s been doing. He’s been playing basketball and doing well. He’s fine."
Something either changed drastically with Fultz’s health in the last two weeks, or the “bumps and bruises” Fultz was dealing with, which Brown thought were typical for one of his players, were more serious than first thought. Brand also said he talked “a little about on-court stuff” with Brothers, though he didn’t want to speculate about whether the timing of the consultation was related to T.J. McConnell taking Fultz’s backup point guard minutes in Monday night’s game.
Either way, Brothers, Fultz, and the Sixers organization were not on the same page. As Brand conceded, Brothers’ interests are not the same as the Sixers', even if the ideal outcome for both parties is Fultz eventually figuring out what’s going on with his shoulder and shot, and becoming the special player everybody thought he could be when he left the University of Washington.
“This was brought to me by Markelle’s agent [Monday] morning,” Brand said. “We’ve been aligned. We’ve allowed Markelle to see many specialists per Raymond, his agent’s, recommendation. And Raymond’s job is different than my job; Raymond’s job is to do what he thinks is best for his client. My job is to continue our positive trend and trying to get deeper in the playoffs. At the end of the day, we all want to support Markelle, and we want what’s best for Markelle.”
If you’re looking at things generously, Team Markelle exists. There are indeed plenty of people who genuinely want the best for Fultz. But even if you believe there’s a Team Markelle out there, it’s obviously fractured in a million pieces.
Team Markelle is currently comprised of the Sixers medical staff; outside specialists; outside trainers; Brown; Brand; Brothers; Sixers legends; NBA veterans; and Fultz’s teammates, ex-teammates, family and friends.
In the middle of that crowd of supposed well-wishers is a 20-year-old with 33 games of NBA experience.
It’s still very possible that Fultz thrives in the NBA — perhaps his latest consultation will result in a new diagnosis, which will lead to a clear, effective treatment plan, which will help Fultz fully rehabilitate his shot. Or maybe the consultation will reveal he’s healthy, and Fultz will return to the lineup, earn back his minutes as the second-unit point guard, and start taking and making long-range shots again.
Neither of those scenarios appears likely at the moment. While Fultz’s first year-plus in the NBA has been as unpredictable and mysterious as any player’s in history, one thing is clear: The chaotic, disparate environment of Team Markelle is not conducive to his success.
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