The Markelle Fultz Trade: Revisited

Following the blockbuster deal made by the Philadelphia 76ers to land the No. 1 pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, I wrote that the Process had been “completed with Markelle Fultz”.

We are now about nine months removed from that trade, and things have changed significantly. Fultz seemed decent in the summer league games and we had no reason to worry, until some curious videos of him shooting in practice surfaced. This was then followed by horrible free-throws in pre-season, and then some troubling shooting performances in his only three regular season games.

Suddenly, the undisputed top pick with a silky smooth jumper now looked like an uncoordinated center that was playing his first real game whenever he stepped to the foul line. Things only got worse as Markelle’s agent released confusing news about fluid in his shoulder, whether it was drained or injected. Ultimately, Fultz was sidelined for months as speculation grew.

Enter Jayson Tatum

Meanwhile, the man taken by the Boston Celtics, Jayson Tatum, has had an excellent rookie campaign, even leading the league 3pt% for a time. Tatum can create his own shot, doesn’t back down from competition, and has good length and effort on the defensive end. He won’t win rookie of the year — as Sixer fans (myself included) are battling for Simmons’ case versus Donovan Mitchell — but he should probably come in third. After all, he’s been the starting forward the entire year for a top five team in the standings.

But worse still for Philadelphia, the Celtics stole a precious lottery pick from the Sixers. It looks like the Sixers will keep the Lakers’ pick this year as it projects to around the tenth spot (the Celtics, if you recall, would only get it if it fell between the 2-5 range). But keeping the pick this year means that the Sixers surrender the Kings’ pick for next year — and with the Vlade Divac circus still running Sacramento, I have a feeling that Boston will get yet another top 5 pick.

Fultz Returns

So everything seemed pretty bleak for the Sixers. Although many kept believing in Fultz, some began to give in around the time of the All-Star break. I thought that he was a full-on bust along the lines of Anthony Bennett. I knew that he still had elite athleticism and a good handle, but with that shot and all the confusion that followed it, coupled with what I began to assume was a poor work ethic, led me and many others to give up.

But then, on the fateful night of March 26, it happened. Fultz returned. Sixers fans and basketball lovers all-around watched, waiting for him to check in. At first, Fultz did not relieve our worries. He air-balled his first jumper, got blocked several times, and looked out of control most of the time he was out there. I sat in anger. Fultz had me and all other fellow “Processers” down. Not since Andrew Bynum had we been let down this badly.

Fortunately, the game was not over. Come the fourth quarter, Fultz did it. He made a jumper. Philly cheered it’s loudest since the Super Bowl victory in February. And, he did again, this time with an even smoother shot that went right in. Less circumspect Sixers fans were quick to hail Fultz as “outstanding”.

Managing Expectations

Was Fultz great? No. He had many clunky turnovers and often forced up shots that got blocked in his face. But was he a disaster? Not at all. The jump shots near the end looked just fine and proved that he’s made progress. But is it really a victory when the No. 1 overall pick can make a routine pull up jumper. Shouldn’t we expect more from Fultz?

Fultz, who looks unlikely to be a superstar in the league, was probably not worth the No. 1 pick, and that trade will definitely hurt the Sixers in the long run. But considering many thought he might not even be a rotation player a month ago, Sixers fans will take what they can get. He’s probably going to be a decent NBA player and maybe a borderline All-Star. That makes him a good asset and an important player for a contender. But it makes him nowhere near worth Jayson Tatum (probably a perennial all-star) and a likely top 5 pick.

The Process Beyond Markelle Fultz

So where do the Sixers go from here? Well, let’s take a look around the roster:

  • Embiid – guaranteed superstar and savior of The Process
  • Ben Simmons – guaranteed superstar, even though he doesn’t know which hand to shoot with
  • Dario Saric – borderline all-star down the line who is a great stretch 4
  • Robert Covington – very streaky shooter who’s been cold but is still a valuable starter
  • TJ McConnell – great backup who is my personal hero
  • Marco Bellineli – great European shooter
  • Ersan Illyasova – great European shooter who’s a little taller
  • JJ Redick – love him but I doubt we can keep him for next year
  • Amir Johnson – he’s …. Alright
  • Richaun Holmes – should get to play more
  • Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot – a wasted first round pick

And everyone else is probably forgettable. So here’s the thing. The Sixers have two bonafide max players in Embiid and Simmons. They already gave Covington, four years for 62 million, and he’s struggled ever since, but it’s not the worst contract. And then they have Dario. He’s still on a rookie deal, but that’ll soon be up. Should the Sixers give him the max? It’s a real tough call. A stupid/desperate team would give him money immediately (see Knicks, Kings, Nets), so he’ll definitely have options. And while Fultz won’t be worth the max, he’ll think he is anyway. Outside of money, I’m already worried that he’s going to cut in the playing time of beloved TJ McConnell. And let’s not even get started on the LeBron sweepstakes.

In conclusion, the Sixers have a predicament in how they’re going to pay all their young talent. A good problem, yes, but a problem nonetheless. I feel like it’s going to come down to that trio of Saric, Fultz, and TJ. I want to keep them all, but that’ll be tricky. The smart move would be to give Dario a little less than the max, and then give TJ and Fultz mid-level deals based on their play. It might not work, but that’s what the organisation should aim for.

Hopefully, Fultz exceeds expectations and proves that he truly is part of the Sixers’ Big 3. We already have 2 of the league’s best guys under 25, and I think both Embiid or Simmons can become top 3 players in the league. All they need is a little more help. Will they make a mistake and crumble like the Thunder after 2012? Or will they manage everything correctly and rise like the Warriors?

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