Markelle Fultz

Markelle Fultz — and his mom — need to move on from Sixers, focus on Magic

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Markelle Fultz — and his mom — need to move on from Sixers, focus on Magic

Just when we all thought the Markelle Fultz-Sixers saga was over, another weird quote comes out.

Fultz was traded to the Magic ahead of last week’s trade deadline, but that hasn’t stopped Fultz and others from throwing veiled criticism at the Sixers.

This time it was Fultz’s mother, Ebony, who had an interesting comment about where her son came from and how much better his new situation is, per The Athletic’s Josh Robbins.

“I get a great vibe,” Ebony Fultz said. “It’s very refreshing to hear the positivity, the support that they have for (the players) and the fact that they’re constantly saying, ‘We want to do this the right way.’”

Wait … what?

Did Ebony meet Brett Brown? He may be the most positive and patient person in the world. This is a guy that won 10 games just a few years ago and was still effusive in his praise of his players. He managed to get a roster that was assembled to lose to play hard every night.

Brown also gave Fultz a starting spot at the beginning of the season — a spot that was unearned, with all due respect. Brown took JJ Redick out of the NBA’s No. 1 starting unit, one that helped the team win 52 games last season, to attempt to boost the confidence of the second-year guard.

The Sixers organization gave Fultz every opportunity to succeed. There was never a negative word that came out of their camp throughout Fultz’s injury issues and struggles. In fact, quite the opposite. 

Brown said this in November after the team was blindsided by news that Fultz would be seeking outside medical opinions per his agent’s advice:

“This news about his shoulder, it did catch me off guard,” Brown said. “But if it’s that real that he needs to go seek further consultation, then we support him. In my eyes, it’s not complicated. That’s what it is, and we’ll support him.”

Does Fultz’s mom think the organization wanted her son to fail? The player they drafted No. 1 overall after giving rival Boston a first-round pick to move up two spots from No. 3? How are you going to rip the patience of an organization that has developed a reputation for holding out first-round picks for entire seasons because of injury?

Even the Philadelphia fan base — which, in case you didn’t know, has a reputation of its own — was shockingly supportive of Fultz. He got a standing ovation from the fans when he made his first NBA three. There were oohs and aahs from the crowd any time he’d shoot the ball outside of 10 feet.

General manager Elton Brand may have ran out of patience once he made a pair of blockbuster deals for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. The Sixers’ window to win is open, but who knows for how long. Considering there was no real timetable for Fultz’s return — and still isn’t, by the way — Brand did what he had to do.

Fultz and his mother got what they wanted with a fresh start in Orlando, where Fultz will face minimal pressure.

Now it’s time for them to move on and stop taking weak parting shots at the Sixers.

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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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Sixers weekly observations: 'The window is now,' challenges for Brett Brown, human side of Markelle Fultz saga

Sixers weekly observations: 'The window is now,' challenges for Brett Brown, human side of Markelle Fultz saga

We usually begin these weekly observations with a review of how the Sixers fared on the court over the past seven days. After the acquisition of five players and the departure of four, that doesn’t feel especially relevant.

But, in case you forgot, the Sixers lost to the Raptors on Tuesday and beat the Nuggets on Friday. 

'The window is now'

One of the more interesting parts of Elton Brand’s press conference Friday was his rationale for the bold Tobias Harris trade. Of course Brand cited Harris’ ability and seemingly excellent fit on the Sixers, but he also discussed the overarching philosophy of the deal. 

He attributed his move, in part, to the development of his two youngest stars.

“Joel Embiid, seeing his growth. Ben Simmons, seeing his growth,” Brand said. “They’re rapidly improved over the past season. The window is now. Our opportunity is now. So once I saw that window, we discussed taking a shot at it now, because who knows how long this window is going to be open.”

Before early Wednesday morning, the Sixers wanted to fight for a championship this season — any team in the NBA with three star players would. But Brand’s trade for Harris clarified the path forward, at least until this summer. Now Brett Brown has, as he put it, “a college season” to coach his new team and prepare them for playoff basketball.

A lot of good problems

Brown faces an abundance of challenges — how does he incorporate Harris into the offense, find optimal rotations for different situations, continue to ensure Joel Embiid is the “crown jewel,” as he said Friday, and maintain a cohesive culture?

These are all good problems to have. And, like Harris said Thursday at the introductory press conference for himself, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott, the Sixers “have a lot of smart basketball players.”

In their first game together, we also saw their unselfish instincts. We’ve seen the same thing with Jimmy Butler — he regularly passes up open shots and has to be told by Brown and his teammates that the Sixers are best when he’s less deferential offensively.

Good problems are still problems, it must be said. If the Sixers are still overpassing in late-March, and Brown still hasn’t figured out which players work best together, or when Marjanovic should play over Jonah Bolden and vice versa, that will be concerning.

'I'd be lying if I didn't feel sad'

The concept of a team trying to shape its roster for title contention by trading away a 20-year-old former No. 1 overall pick for anything less than a star is, out of context, baffling.

But Markelle Fultz’s tenure in Philadelphia was, if it was anything, very, very strange.

Less than a year ago, an emotional Brown announced Fultz would play vs. the Nuggets after a 68-game absence (see video).

“I get goosebumps telling you that,” he said. “I’m so proud of him.”

And on Friday night, before the Sixers’ game against the Nuggets, Brown reflected on Fultz being traded to the Magic in exchange for Jonathon Simmons and two draft picks. 

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.

Given the win-now mentality of the Harris trade, and given the uncertainty about Fultz’s future, Brand was smart to deal Fultz to the Magic (see story). But the human side of the Fultz saga can sometimes go overlooked, and perhaps nobody captures its emotions better than Brown.

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