The day I turned 25 the Philadelphia 76ers traded for the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. It felt too good to be true. Ben Simmons would begin his rookie season months from then. Joel Embiid would be healthy after dominating his first 31 games, too. Philadelphia needed a third young stud to pair with Simmons and Embiid. Markelle Fultz, this dynamic, combo guard that drew comparison to James Harden, would be available with the first overall pick. For some innate reason, Boston didn’t want him. They didn’t know any better, the collective Philadelphia fan base thought loudly, probably far too aggressively. Sure, trading the Sacramento Kings 2019 first round pick could sting a bit. But it didn’t matter, because Philadelphia had three budding superstars.
601 days later Fultz has been traded to the Orlando Magic for a possible late first-round pick, a second-round pick and a guy who shoots 23 percent from three on the season. It needed to happen, certainly. The moment Philadelphia acquired Jimmy Butler in November, the clock started to tick with an extra emphasis. It was only a matter of time before Fultz would be gone from the 76ers if things didn’t change fast.
Before the season began, there was a heavy sense of optimism. A summer away from the spotlight seemed to be what Fultz needed to get himself right. Fans encouraged him to shoot in a rather aloof, obnoxious way in the early stages of this season. He hit a three here and there. His shot didn’t look like it did during his lone season at Washington. Or even at the Utah Summer League in 2017. But signs pointed up at times. And then a setback happened. A strange form on a free throw. An unwillingness to shoot from even 12 feet away. It’s mental. It’s physical. Maybe it’s a bit of both. Something happened to Fultz. On Nov. 19 against the Suns just days after Butler joined the 76ers, Philadelphia began the game as poorly as possible at home. The team needed a spark. In the second half head coach Brett Brown inserted TJ McConnell over Fultz. It marked his final game, shocking the 76ers with an announcement that he stepped away from the team to figure out just what the hell was wrong.
Embiid and Simmons were too great to wait for Fultz to maybe, possibly catch up. It’s why the Butler trade happened. It’s why earlier this week Elton Brand traded for Tobias Harris. Philadelphia doesn’t need to rely on any potential hope Fultz might provide. They’re going for it despite the former No. 1 pick.
There shouldn’t be any ill will towards Fultz. It’s awful what happened to him, because there’s no real solution it appears. It’s a mystery, even if a doctor said he had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a neck and shoulder injury. Brown said the other night he didn’t expect Fultz to play this season since he hasn’t watched him play in months. Who really knows what’ll happen to Fultz as his career progresses. Hopefully he figures it out in Orlando and becomes that budding superstar so many expected.