The700Level

The Sixers may be mishandling Markelle Fultz's injury

The Sixers may be mishandling Markelle Fultz's injury

We don’t know much about the nature of the shoulder injury that’s bothering Sixers guard Markelle Fultz. We don’t know when he got hurt. We don’t know exactly what the injury is. We don’t know how long it will take to recover.

All we know is that whatever is wrong with Fultz’s shoulder, he can barely heave a free throw to the basket from 16 feet away. His shot has been so obviously altered, people assumed the Sixers had to be messing with the 19-year-old’s mechanics. And with his performance visibly affected, and his minutes limited during the preseason, the No. 1 choice in the 2017 NBA draft is set to begin the season on the bench.

That plan was announced to some controversy, as Fultz becomes one of a small handful — and, to this point, disappointing batch — of recent top overall picks who failed to open their rookie seasons as starters. Yet, lost in the hoopla over whether coming off the bench is an ominous sign for Fultz’s future is a far more practical question.

Should Fultz be playing at all?

Fultz appeared in only two exhibition games for the Sixers, and they weren’t pretty. He shot 2 for 13 from the field (0 for 3 from three) and scored four points against the Grizzlies, and scored 12 points off of 5 for 11 shooting from the field (no three-point attempts) against the Celtics. Numbers aside, Fultz’s shot looked flat and often came up short of the basket. He looked like a kid who’s playing hurt.

Naturally, team doctors are privy to a lot of medical information the general public is not — in this case, all of the information — but it’s difficult to watch Fultz struggle to hoist a basketball to the rim and not ask what good playing is doing him. And given the Sixers’ fiasco handling Joel Embiid’s torn meniscus last season, it’s certainly fair to wonder whether the organization has this latest situation under control.

Embiid wouldn’t undergo surgery for two months after the injury, initially classified as a bone bruise, and is beginning this season on a minutes restriction partially as a result. Seemingly in response to criticism over the debacle, the Sixers created the post of vice president of athlete care and tabbed Dr. C. Daniel Medina Leal for the position in September.

Apologies if that move didn’t immediately erase any concerns or skepticism.

Conversely, we’ve also seen this same organization practice extreme caution when dealing with injuries to Ben Simmons and Embiid. Simmons missed a full season, and Embiid missed two full years, both with foot injuries. The Sixers are still exercising more restraint than some would like with Embiid’s current restrictions. It’s been maddening at times, but simultaneously easy to see where they’re coming from.

So why not show a modicum of patience with Fultz and allow him to rest his injury? Granted, there’s generally far more risk involved with lower-body injuries, particularly those of the magnitude Embiid and Simmons were dealing with. But even if Fultz isn’t doing any more damage to his shoulder or slowing the healing process by playing, what exactly is the benefit to his working through this?

Sixers coach Brett Brown talked about the need to balance Fultz’s development with winning games. How much does the rookie’s presence on the hardwood help the Sixers accomplish either goal right now?

Fultz’s shot couldn’t possibly be as painful to watch as it is for him to take, and you can only imagine the toll that’s taking physically and mentally. Will it hurt his confidence? Will it prolong the recovery? Will it cause him to alter his form even after the pain has dissipated? Will he be able to focus on honing other aspects of the game?

Because while it’s been only two preseason games — and just two summer league games before he went down with a sprained ankle — it doesn’t look the Sixers are counting on Fultz to key many victories in the early stages of this season.

There are 82 games to go, not including the prospect of playoffs. If the Sixers are worried about Fultz’s development, there’s time. It’s a long season.

Again, we don’t actually know much at all about Fultz’s injury, so maybe it’s unfair to judge. But going off of the two preseason games he played, I’m not certain I understand the rush to get Fultz on the court when he’s clearly laboring.

Zhaire Smith has already unlocked the cheesesteak photo op

Zhaire Smith has already unlocked the cheesesteak photo op

Cheesesteaks are great.

People who are new to Philadelphia should eat cheesesteaks. People who are not new to Philadelphia should also eat cheesesteaks.

New 76ers draft pick Zhaire Smith is new to Philadelphia so he went to eat a cheesesteak.

Thankfully, it was a pretty good one at Jim's Steaks on South Street. It appears as if there is no ketchup or other strange substances on his cheesesteak. Hot peppers are not only acceptable but encouraged, in my humble cheesesteak eating opinion.

Congrats, Zhaire for enjoying a cheesesteak successfully without embarrassment.

You can learn much more about Smith and his abilities and fit with the Sixers right here.

Sixers put organization ahead of Mikal Bridges' feelings ... and that's okay

Sixers put organization ahead of Mikal Bridges' feelings ... and that's okay

Brett Brown sold me.

I agree with my colleague Andrew Kulp that the moment the news of the Sixers trading Mikal Bridges broke that I was flabbergasted. His mother works for the Sixers! Mikal was literally talking about how excited she was for him to be in Philly when the news broke. His poor mother! It was pretty much as rough as it gets in terms of optics. 

It looked awful from a PR perspective. There are tons of disappointed Villanova alums today.

But it's an unfortunate situation, in my opinion, not an organizational embarrassment, as Kulp wrote.

An unprotected first round pick though? Damn. That's enticing.

Then Brett Brown came out after the first round ended and put my mind at ease that the Sixers made the right move.

They did what they believed to be best for the Sixers, a "Godfather offer" if you will. Here's Brett's, incredibly honest and thoughtful opening statement. You can watch it in full above. I think it's worth watching to realize how much thought Brett and his decision makers put into this one.

"We had 1A and 1B and when the 9th pick was selected you realize, we’re going to get one of our two, and we chose Mikal. And to see that play out knowing the history that he has had in this city and at Villanova, it was very much aligned and he was somebody that could come in a fit with what we had. And so it goes from that level of excitement in the extreme coincidence, given his history in this city, to a situation in between that the phones were active and we knocked back an incredible deal where we would lose him. We didn’t rate it to be a Godfather type of deal, something that really would impact the franchise to the level that it would have to in order to trade Mikal, who we valued very much."

"And then Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected plus our 1B in Zhaire [Smith], who we value very highly, and you’re in a position that you’re on the clock and you really have a decision to make. And for me, and all of us in that room, what also rules our day is a few things. First— and in this order—what is always best for the organization, I’m going into my sixth season with the Philadelphia 76ers and so what is best for the organization and how do you win a championship, how do you acquire things that can attract stars or develop stars? That pick might be the key to all of this, that pick might be the thing that links a possible trade, and we have our 1B in Zhaire."

The trade was jarring emotionally. There's no sugar coating that. Bridges is by all accounts a wonderful and thoughtful kid. Not to mention a hell of a basketball player who would absolutely help the Sixers in 2018.

Brown later added a line that should make you more comfortable with the Sixers moving on from him: "We are star hunting or we are star developing."

If the Sixers didn't believe that Mikal Bridges would be one of those stars, they added an incredibly valuable piece in the unprotected first that can help acquire a star. Either via trade or in a future draft. And they got their 1B on top of it.

Some very smart NBA people even believe that Zhaire Smith is a better prospect than Bridges. Only time will tell on those two players. But the Sixers did what they believed put them in the best position to land a star.

Isn't that what the Process is all about anyway?

"I'm here to win a championship," Brett Brown said at the introductory press conference for Smith this morning.

They pulled off this trade because they believe it helps them get closer to a championship. At the end of the day, are you worried more about one family's feelings or the Sixers winning a championship?

If you watched Mikal speak to the Phoenix media following the trade, he'll be just fine growing alongside DeAndre Ayton. That kid is a pro. And the Sixers put them in the position they believe best sets them up to land a star.

Now they just need to go out and do it.

More on the Sixers