Fifteen or so minutes before the NBA trade deadline, just when you started to think the Sixers might have decided to keep Markelle Fultz and trust that the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft would one day be back on a basketball court and resemble the dynamic, smooth-shooting player he was at the University of Washington, the news broke.
The Sixers were trading Fultz to the Orlando Magic, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported. In return, they’re receiving Jonathon Simmons, a 2020 protected first-round pick from Oklahoma City, and a 2019 second-round selection, the most favorable from Cleveland, Houston or Orlando, a team source confirmed (see story).
Once you get past the pervasive weirdness of Fultz’s tenure in Philadelphia, the diagnoses of what was wrong with him, and the shaky cell phone videos of his shaky jumper, it’s apparent that general manager Elton Brand made a smart deal in trading Fultz to Orlando.
With his trade Wednesday for Tobias Harris, Brand clarified the Sixers’ window. He’s building the Sixers to win now, while he knows that his Big 4 of Harris, Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid will be around. The future beyond this season is uncertain for the Sixers.
Fittingly, no future is more murky than Fultz’s. His present isn’t especially clear either. Since he played his last game for the Sixers on Nov. 19, 2018, the only official, definitive update from the Sixers on Fultz was that he had been diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. Everything else has been speculative. He may very well forge a good NBA career for himself, but it made little sense for Brand to bargain that he’d do so in Philadelphia.
Simmons is a wing renowned for his defense, a quality the Sixers have been desperately searching for off the bench. James Ennis, whom the Sixers acquired Thursday in a deal with the Rockets (see story), is a decent all-around option who can knock down three-point shots (36.1 percent for his career). Both present much more immediate value than Fultz — his current value, sitting on the bench in street clothes, is zero.
Before the Harris trade, the notion that the Sixers should remain patient with Fultz and hope he would eventually morph back into the player they drafted made some sense. You could reasonably envision a scenario in which Fultz's physical therapy did the trick, he rediscovered his shot, and the Sixers regretted letting him go in a win-now move.
That logic doesn’t apply to this situation, or to the trade Brand made. By securing the two draft picks, Brand didn’t abandon the Sixers’ future. And by adding Simmons, he made a team that now has legitimate championship aspirations better.
Regardless of how Fultz’s highly unusual NBA journey develops, Brand made a good deal. While it doesn’t appear likely, it’s still possible Fultz makes an incredible recovery and becomes an All-Star. That won’t matter to the Sixers if this trade helps them win a title.
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