Markelle Fultz

Why a trade isn't Sixers' answer for the Markelle Fultz problem

Why a trade isn't Sixers' answer for the Markelle Fultz problem

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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Behind the scenes of Jimmy Butler's first day as a Sixer

Behind the scenes of Jimmy Butler's first day as a Sixer

ORLANDO, Fla. — It was business as usual at Sixers shootaround, except as Brett Brown gathered the group together, there was a new face sitting front and center.

By 10 a.m., Jimmy Butler had already been up for four and a half hours, had his breakfast, did his reading, got a lift in at the hotel gym, chatted with Brown, and arrived early to Freedom High School to get some shots up before shootaround.

Butler listened intently as his new head coach spoke to the group.

It went something like this ...

“He’s an All-Star. He thrives on the defensive end, and our culture is built on defense," Brown said. "He’s going to fit right in. There is no culture to be changed. We all have one goal. We want to win the championship, and with his addition, we have a good chance.”

But Brown wasn’t using his own words, he was actually quoting phrases from an interview that Joel Embiid did with the media on Monday night, following their win over Miami.

“Our culture is built on defense,” Brown repeated before helping Butler up off the floor.

And then it was time to get started. Butler picked up a foam roller and rolled out next to rookie Landry Shamet and Furkan Korkmaz. Assistant coach Billy Lange came over to chat. 

“He was talkative, he was asking questions and talking and listening to new verbiage and words,” Brown said of Butler.

One of the guys Butler particularly gravitated towards was JJ Redick. The two were going back and forth during shooting drills, and Redick pulled him aside to make sure that he was understanding (and helping to explain) concepts. 

But there’s only so much one can pick up during one shootaround session with brand new coaches, teammates and terminologies. 

“Today was about less is more, and close-game situations,” Brown said. “In that environment, he picks up really quickly. It’s obvious he’s been doing this for a long time.” 

After his first shootaround, Butler joked that he was “hella confused on some plays, but other than that, basketball was basketball.”

“He’s a cool guy, and I feel like he’s going to help this team in a lot of ways,” said Markelle Fultz, who has been relegated to the second unit. “I don’t know about all the stories y’all heard, but I’m excited to pick his brain.”

“I love basketball,” Butler beamed. “I love to compete, to show that I can help a team win, to show that I’m one of the really good players in the league.” 

Tonight, Butler will don a Sixers uniform for the first time.

“I know I’m going to love this city, and I hope the city loves me just as much. I’m just ready to hoop, ready to win, battle with my guys.”

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Markelle Fultz out of starting lineup for Jimmy Butler's Sixers debut vs. Magic

Markelle Fultz out of starting lineup for Jimmy Butler's Sixers debut vs. Magic

Just 15 games into the season, Markelle Fultz is no longer a starter.

In a move that many saw coming after the Jimmy Butler trade, Fultz will not be in the Sixers' starting lineup Wednesday in Orlando.

Instead, Butler will start in his debut alongside JJ Redick, Ben Simmons, Wilson Chandler and Joel Embiid.

As of now, this looks like the Sixers’ strongest five-man lineup — especially defensively. While Brett Brown had his reasons for starting Fultz, this seemed inevitable. It’s clear at this point in their careers that Fultz and Simmons are both point guards.

This is far from the end of the world for Fultz. He’ll still probably average around 24 minutes a game off the bench as the backup point. There have been several times this season when he’s actually given the Sixers a nice spark off the bench during his second-half run. While his shot obviously has not progressed, he's made vast improvements defensively and in his aggressiveness getting to the rim.

Looking big picture is likely where the Butler trade affects Fultz more. If the Sixers sign Butler to a long-term contract this offseason, it leaves little room for Fultz once Simmons gets his extension in 2020. Elton Brand was adamant that the Butler move was not an indictment on Fultz, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on going forward.

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