76ers

Markelle Fultz guarantees playoffs, talks LeBron James joining Sixers, Lonzo Ball

Markelle Fultz guarantees playoffs, talks LeBron James joining Sixers, Lonzo Ball

Joel Embiid has said it. Charles Barkley has said it. And Markelle Fultz has heard it.

The Sixers will make the playoffs this year. 

And on Thursday at the Sixers' day camp at Valley Forge Military Academy, it was Fultz's turn to utter that one word that Sixers fans haven't heard since 2012: Playoffs

"We’re going to be in the playoffs this year, and I think everybody is willing to put forth their best effort and listen to the coaches and listen to the bench. We've got to just do whatever it takes to get there," Fultz told CSNPhilly. "That’s practicing even harder, that’s doing extra work in the gym by ourselves, I mean, we’re going to do whatever it takes." 

As a newcomer, Fultz hasn't had to suffer through the worst years of The Process like others on the team. But now that things are looking up, Fultz understands the weight of 253 losses in the last four years and thousands of more jokes online hang over the team like a rain cloud. 

"I think we all know that we’re going to go against the odds, really," Fultz said. "Everybody thinks we’re not going to do it, but I think we know we’re going to make mistakes and we’re just willing to work through them."

Last season, the Sixers finished 28-54 and 13 games out of the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference. But with a revamped roster that includes Fultz, a healthy Ben Simmons and the big free-agent signing of JJ Redick, that dark cloud hanging over the Sixers has turned into a perfect storm for the team to grow now and add key pieces in the future.

On LeBron James potentially joining the Sixers
Could LeBron James be one of those future pieces the Sixers need to capture their first championship since 1983?

“Definitely, he would be a great fit," Fultz said. "I think he would be good, somebody else I can pass the ball to. Everybody, I think the whole city will love him, but I mean, at the end of the day you gotta do what you gotta do, but we’ll love to have 'Bron in Philly.

Anyone else on the wish list?

“We’ll take anybody right now, LeBron, Kyrie (Irving). If they want to come, come on. (Carmelo Anthony), anybody.

James can opt out of his contract following the 2017-18 season. He's also raised the eyebrows of Sixers fans everywhere with a back and forth with Simmons. Even Mike Trout has gotten in on the recruitment. 

On expectations for his rookie season
But regardless of what happens next offseason, Fultz is focused on what happens on the court this season. 

“My expectations are really just to give it my all," Fultz said. "I don’t really have any set goals or anything like that. Just play as hard as I can and live with the results. But also, getting us back on the winning side, getting us to the playoffs and everything like that. But in order to do that, you've got to play as hard as you can and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing."

On rehab
Fultz considers himself lucky to even be on the court this season. Fultz had to be helped off the floor in his Las Vegas summer league debut, as the entire city of Philadelphia let out a collective, "Not again." As it turns out, it was just a sprained left ankle, and Fultz appears on track to be a full participant in training camp.

“Rehab’s going real great," the rookie said. "Everybody knows I sprained my ankle, but my ankle’s a lot better thanks to the training staff. I give big props to them, one of the best in the business. ... I’ve been working out. I’ve been jumping, shooting, everything like that, so I’m real healthy, so I’m happy."

Fultz sat out the remaining four games of summer league while rehabbing. 

"Not even being the No. 1 pick, just being a basketball player and having a love for the game, it was bad, really," Fultz said. "Just being out there with my team, of course, it was fun being there with them, but I wanted to play every game. And not just to prove myself, just because I love the game. I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anybody. I think it’s just me going out there and doing what I want to do and have fun and doing what's best for the team. It was disappointing when I got hurt but everything happens for a reason. That’s how I looked at it."

On Lonzo Ball
And of course, that meant missing out on the highly-anticipated showdown with No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball and the Lakers. 

"Me and him are cool," Fultz said of Ball. "I’m pretty sure we’re going to meet each other during the season. The NBA, I think, is going to do a good job of making that happen and I look forward to it. I wish him the best of luck this season, just like I’m pretty sure he does to me, but it’s going to be good. I’m looking forward to it.”

On the hype surrounding the Sixers
When Fultz takes the court for the Sixers' home opener (the regular season schedule has not yet been released), it'll be in front of a sell-out crowd — a rarity the Sixers haven't seen in quite some time. But with the team seemingly on the uptick, Sixers fans have already bought a franchise record number of tickets. The hype is real.

“Definitely, we feel all the hype. You can tell just walking around, everybody knows who you are. Just the hype is real. And I can’t wait to get in the crowd and just hear the packed out, sold-out arena and I think that just fires us. We stand behind our fans, especially me. I love the fans here and I think we’re going to put on a show for them and start winning."

Fultz was able to experience the frenzy surrounding Embiid and the Sixers firsthand in April when he attended a game during the pre-draft process. The Sixers were a longshot to land the No. 1 pick and nab Fultz then, but with some Hinkie-esque maneuvering, the Sixers jumped up to No. 1 to select Fultz in June. From that one game, Fultz knew he was meant to be in Philly. 

"It’s kind of crazy, but at the end of the day, like I said, I think God does everything for a reason. That’s the reason I took that visit, really. People were like, ‘why is he in Philly?’ But you never know what might happen.

"I kind of had a feeling that I was going to end up here. It’s kind of crazy, but I’m just glad it happened, really. I don’t wish I was anywhere else. I think this is the perfect spot for me. A young team, coaching staff is great, the training is great, everything. The fans are the best in the world.”

Sixers' NBA draft decisions should serve as a warning for Markelle Fultz

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Sixers' NBA draft decisions should serve as a warning for Markelle Fultz

The Friday after any NBA draft is a crowning moment for all of the league’s franchises. They trot out the previous night’s selections and hold introductory press conferences with smiles all around.

The Sixers were no different as they showed off first-round picks Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet at their training complex Friday morning.

However, make no mistake that this one was a little bit different. 

While the event was all about the new faces joining the organization, it also served as a direct warning shot to Markelle Fultz.

Brett Brown sat at the podium sandwiched between the two players he selected in the first round of his initial foray as Sixers interim general manager. Both guys happen to be bigger guards and each possess a particular top skill (athleticism for Smith and shooting for Shamet) that the Sixers thought they were getting right from the start in Fultz.

“The real reason they’re here is their talent,” Brown said. “Their ability to grow into NBA players, to play a modern style of basketball. The ability we felt that their base foundation had so much more room to grow. 

“The notion of how we play here in Philadelphia. The values that we have on defense, how we want to play offense. How we all look into a crystal ball and suspect the sport is going to be played in 2025. When you added those up, it made perfect sense and aggressively targeting these two players that sit on my right and sit on my left.”

It was just a year ago that the Sixers made an aggressive move to the top of the 2017 draft for Fultz. And while the franchise isn’t ready to give up on him after a rocky rookie season, it certainly sounds more and more like the team has settled on him becoming just a piece and not a cornerstone.

“When we started looking at the players available and I especially start looking at how we want to play and who can be sandwiched in between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, we’re looking for that modern-day type of player,” Brown said when asked whether taking two guards in the first round meant something about Fultz’s status. “To say position-less basketball, it’s really not that. To me, it might give you better vision of what I’m trying to say. I just think that the skill and things that we require, these two have, especially as you look sandwiched in between. And whether that’s Markelle, T.J. (McConnell) or Cov (Robert Covington), I would tell you the same thing. 

“When you look at the league, the league switches defensively a lot. When you look at the league, the league drives, dishes, needs three-point shot-makers and playmakers a lot. So whether it’s apples for apples is fine by me, but probably what you should hear the loudest is I don’t think there’s overlap. I think that they can play together.”

Playing together is completely different than playing around. It’s pretty clear the Sixers now reserve that status for Embiid, Simmons and whatever stars they plan to chase in free agency or via trade.

That doesn’t mean Fultz can’t reclaim the standing within the organization he was seemingly destined for when the Sixers called his name at No. 1 last year. After all, he just turned 20 years old last month (he’s actually 14 months younger than Shamet).

It all starts during this crucial summer for Fultz, which apparently is already going well (see story). But Smith and Shamet will have the chance to make impacts of their own coming up in the next few months as well.

“If you just base it on math and you look at percentages of what does a 10th player do and what’s a 26th player do, rarely do you see people immediately come in and claim a large role in rotations and heavy minutes. That historically isn’t the trend,” Brown said. “I say that from a factual base more than something that might be challenged. I expect these guys to challenge that. 

“Where this ends up, the expectations in relations to role and minutes and all of that, they’re going to tell me. We’ve got a summer league coming up. They will have ample opportunities to draw their own line in the sand.”

Fultz better be focused on drawing his too.

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Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Heading into the NBA draft, there was some uncertainty about how the Sixers would make decisions. Nobody seemed willing to say whether interim GM Brett Brown would have the final say, or whether it would be a truly collaborative process.

Thursday night, Brown confirmed he’s the man in charge.

“I was the one that approved the final decision,” Brown said after the Sixers’ first-round trade for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 unprotected first-round pick. “We have many people in that room that are aggressively speaking to people. We have information, we put it on a board and we discuss it. At the end of the day, (managing partner) Josh (Harris) looked at me and I did what I did. I approved the deal.”

Brown made sure to credit the people around him who made a difficult job easier. As Brown put it, “This has been a really different June” for him. There’s no way he could have expected he’d be pulling the trigger on draft night when the season ended, but he’s taken leadership of another team, this one in the front office.

“There is an incredible amount of teamwork that is required in that room,” Brown said. “You’re on the clock. I thought (vice president of basketball operations and chief of staff) Ned Cohen did a fantastic job helping organize this. The analytics side with Alex Rucker and Sergi Oliva, those guys were awesome. And then I think (vice president of basketball operations) Marc Eversley, delivering the group, you know, ‘These are the players with our scouts,’ it was a very collaborative process. It was a systematic process where you felt like you were a part of a team.”

Separating the head coaching part of his job from the GM duties he’s been thrown into hasn’t been painless for Brown. He acknowledged he felt the “human side” of trading away a high-character local kid whose mom works for the organization in Mikal Bridges (see story).

“The torment of trying to do my job in the very limited role I have for a moment as the general manager versus the role that I have as the head coach of this program, it’s a toggle,” Brown said. “And this is where we arrived.”

It’s obviously not a job Brown wants to do long term. At some point, he’ll be able to return his full focus to coaching. For now, though, he says he’s enjoying his new role. He’s always loved preaching about his program and cultivating a positive culture. Persistently optimistic, Brown looks at the aftermath of the Bryan Colangelo saga as an opportunity to fully embrace those passions.

“I said right when I accepted the responsibility that I have no intent of doing this,” Brown said. “I’m a basketball coach. When this came up, I felt a responsibility to do the best that I could under the circumstances to help move us forward. ... Down deep, I love it, because you just bleed for the program. You’ll do whatever you can to bring a championship to this city. That’s the bottom line. As we corral the analytics people, the scouts, my coaching staff and the people that work in the building and try to hold us together and move us forward and show daylight, that’s my job.”

There’s still no official timeline from the Sixers on when Brown’s tenure as interim GM will end. But free agency starts on July 1, and Brown is ready to recruit. He also sounded prepared to go all-out in pursuit of possible trades for stars (see story), including a hypothetical example that seemed to very closely resemble Kawhi Leonard, who wants out of San Antonio and has expressed his desire to return to his hometown of Los Angeles.

“When you talk about what are you going to do to show the program the way we want it to be seen, sometimes it’s in-house, sometimes you have to travel,” Brown said. “Whether we have to go mobile and, as an example, go to Los Angeles and deal with a family, an agent, the player. Whether we can attract him to come here to the city of Philadelphia.

“The whole strategy of how we do that, the presentation of information, we’ve been talking about that for a while. I feel completely that we will not miss a beat now that the draft is done, that we can focus in when free agency kicks in on July 1.”

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