The Sixers have a Markelle Fultz problem, and the Jimmy Butler trade raises valid questions about how the 2017 No. 1 overall pick fits into the team’s short-and-long-term plans. This is the current state of affairs with Fultz. One season and 16 games into his NBA career, we’re wondering if the 20-year-old is a “colossal bust,” and if the Sixers should trade him.
No, really, and this didn’t start with Monday’s bizarre free-throw attempt in Miami. That was the decayed cherry on top of this strange fiasco. A lot has happened in Fultz’s short time here, and not much of it has been positive.
The grim reality of the Butler trade is this: The Process is over. The Sixers have entered Post-Process, and Post-Process is essentially win-now mode. A consequence is that the Sixers can no longer afford to bank on hitting the lottery, and Fultz is still very much a lottery ticket.
Butler is a Sixer, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll be donning the PHILA uniform for a long time. That doesn’t exactly bode well for Fultz. What we’ve learned in the first 16 games is that Fultz and Ben Simmons cannot coexist on the court, as highlighted by NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh.
All of this brings us to, what should the Sixers do with Fultz?
When we factor in all the concerns — the hesitation to shoot outside the restricted area, that shot, public struggles, etc. — the return on a Fultz trade would be minimal unless he's packaged as part of a bigger deal.
If there is a trade involving Fultz that will help elevate the Sixers even higher in the NBA hierarchy, then, sure, it makes sense to move him. But with a damaged on-court reputation, it's hard to see Fultz being the centerpiece of a bigger move.
At this point, there’s more value in the Sixers trusting the culture they’ve built and entrusting the coaching staff to resurrect Fultz. If anything, Butler should take away some of the spotlight, and that’s not the worst thing either.
Most of Fultz’s obstacles have been mental, and with Butler here, he doesn't have to be a star. Instead, he can focus on doing what he does well and work on his game with a little less pressure. On the court, he’s attacked the rim effectively and his defense has improved, but with a jump shot that ineffective, it’s hard to harp on the positives.
We saw the first piece of fallout Wednesday when Brett Brown removed Fultz from the starting lineup. Fultz captained the second unit and managed eight points in 21 minutes. It’s the right move because the numbers support that Fultz plays considerably better without Simmons.
That’s the immediate repercussion, but the big picture presents a more complicated conundrum. If the Sixers no longer view Fultz as a future star, should they move quickly to denounce Bryan Colangelo’s miscalculation and prevent another potential Jahlil Okafor situation? There's an argument that’s the best course of action.
We're one year removed and it looks like Fultz will not be the top player in his draft. He may not even be a top-10 player, but he’ll forever have the No. 1 pick designation. Accordingly, Fultz will be in the spotlight and there’s been plenty of drama to beat that bust drum.
Brand refused Tuesday to say the Butler trade was a reflection of Fultz. Instead, “it’s more of a team view of trying to get a superstar right now.” It’s a bleak perspective, but it’s hard to envision Fultz developing into the star we once thought he could be.
That doesn’t mean Fultz can’t evolve into a piece to the puzzle. If Fultz can still help, then there's more value in holding onto that hand than folding. This isn't Okafor all over again — there is still a role here for Fultz.
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