When the Philadelphia 76ers traded Markelle Fultz Thursday afternoon it didn’t come as a surprise. Philly’s moves to acquire Jimmy Butler earlier in the season and Tobias Harris at the trade deadline signify that they are all-in on the present. Fultz, the player the Sixers traded up to draft at number one less than two years ago, was supposed to be a huge part of Philly’s future, but as of Thursday the organization’s future plans no longer include the former number-one pick. After a tenure with the 76ers that was borderline bizarre, sometimes heartbreaking, and always frustrating…where does Markelle Fultz go from here?
It’s easy to forget now, but Philly’s aggressive pursuit to move up in the 2017 draft in order to select Markelle Fultz out of the University of Washington was almost universally applauded at the time. This was a Sixers team that was knee deep in “The Process” and Fultz was viewed as a great fit with Philly’s young duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Ironically, one of the main reasons the Sixers felt comfortable pairing Fultz with the jump shot-less Simmons in their backcourt of the future was Fultz’s ability to shoot from outside. He shot just over 41% from behind the 3-point line in college…add in great size for a point guard (6’4″) with lightning-fast speed and it’s easy to see why Fultz was the consensus top pick of the 2017 NBA draft.
The future looked bright for Fultz and the Sixers, but then the unfathomable happened…at some point between the 2017 NBA summer league and the start of training camp, THE NUMBER ONE PICK OF THE DRAFT FORGOT HOW TO SHOOT. ‘Forgot’ might not be the right word to use here, because no one really knows what the right word is. There have been tons of draft busts over the years, but that label doesn’t quite fit Fultz, as his saga is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. There have been thousands of words already typed on this subject, so I’ll spare you a deep dive, but whether due to injury, psychology, or a combination of both…Fultz was no longer able to shoot a jump shot when his rookie campaign kicked off. Numerous doctor visits and sessions with shooting coaches followed. This is the point where it becomes really easy to sympathize with Markelle Fultz, a then 19-year-old kid with the expectations of an entire city and organization on his shoulders, who is suddenly unable to do the one thing he’s been great at his whole life.
While Fultz toiled on the Philly bench during the 2017-18 season, teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons proved themselves to be the real deal. The duo was much better, much faster than anyone truly anticipated, leading the Sixers to 52 wins in the regular season. Philly then knocked out Miami in the first-round of the NBA Playoffs and the team that was all about “The Process” was suddenly about “The Present”. This was all accomplished without Fultz, who appeared in just 14 games as a rookie. After an offseason filled with glimmers of hope and shaky iPhone videos of Fultz’s jumpshot, the Sixers tried to work him into the rotation at the beginning of this season, but it quickly became clear that Fultz still wasn’t the player that the Sixers drafted.
So, after just 20 months and 33 games played, the former no. 1 pick is now a former Philadelphia 76er. Just before this past Thanksgiving, Fultz played his last game for the Sixers and received a new medical diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome shortly thereafter. The acquisition of Jimmy Butler earlier this season signaled that Philly was accelerating their championship timetable and the Tobias Harris trade earlier this week kicked it into hyper drive. Fultz and his issues were no longer a luxury the organization could afford and the Sixers sent him to Orlando for Jonathon Simmons and two draft picks. The move killed two birds with one stone for Philly, creating the financial room to attempt to retain both Harris and Butler after this season, while also washing their hands of the scrutiny the Fultz situation brought.
Orlando is a beautiful city, but it’s the closest thing the NBA has to Siberia. It also might be exactly what Markelle Fultz needs right now. He can rehab and work on his game with little media scrutiny in Orlando. He also won’t be carrying the hopes and dreams of a franchise on his shoulders. The Magic are in perma-rebuild mode and it’s the perfect situation for Fulz. It’s easy to forget that this kid is still just 20-years-old. His short time in Philly wasn’t without brief glimpses of his elite talent. In his rookie season he became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double at just 19-years-old and he did it without being able to shoot a jumper! Things might never improve for him in Orlando, the place where talent goes to be forgotten about, but maybe being forgotten about for a little while is just what Markelle Fultz needs.