March 26, 2018
Sixers guard Markelle Fultz will return to Philadelphia's lineup against the Denver Nuggets, following an announcement at Brett Brown's pre-game presser on Monday evening.
"It was his decision," said Brown. "I get goosebumps telling you all that. I'm so proud of him, and the people around him have done great things. I give that kid credit, he will be with us tonight."
Fultz's role is expected to be as the primary backup to Ben Simmons early on, with the (other) rookie assuming lead ballhandling duties on the second unit. His minute count will be fluid, in what Brown described as a "drip feed" from now through the end of the season.
"I've been giving him the ball [in practice]", said Brown, "he's getting up and down the floor, he's elite in open court. We're always challenging him defensively. I think it's going to be easier for him to impact the game with the ball in open court, it's going to be tough territory initially chasing those guards around in NBA movement and speed and sets, that's going to be a foreign experience for him."
"But we have 10 games before the playoffs, [and] I've said for a long time the risk/reward, I'm going to lean on reward. He's different than anything that we have, and most importantly for his sake, he's put in a lot of work. I'm thrilled to be able to offer him the opportunity to come join his teammates at this exciting time of the year."
Brown explained that the decision to play him now stems from private conversations between the rookie guard and his head coach the day of the game, and that his confidence and performance in workouts has had everyone in their building excited. That doesn't mean this was all public knowledge — as he addressed the media at 5:15 p.m., his teammates still did not officially know Fultz would join them tonight.
The primary reason for that? This was just as sudden for Brown as it was for all of the reporters in the press room, and all of you following along with the tweets and stories at home.
"He and I have been talking a lot, and never was it at a stage where it's definitely going to happen. Today I felt something good with the performance he has been having in practices and some workouts, and you could tell he's got a confidence in his spirit, you could feel that and you could see that," said Brown. "He came to me and said coach, I'm ready to play, I want to play tonight."
"There needs to be an intelligent, realistic plan for him, and we're all going to learn and see how this plays out," said Brown. "I'm so proud of him and the people around him ... we can look in the rearview mirror and remember a bunch of different things, but to come out of this and he looks confident, his body's off the charts good."
The head coach credited the work assistant coach Billy Lange underwent with Fultz over the time he was out as a driving force for where he is today.
"Billy Lange's been a star for him, getting him in shape, and the collective efforts of Ned Cohen and Bryan Colangelo and the medical people and his teammates, and so here we are," said Brown. "It's a good day."
More to come as this story develops...