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February 07, 2019

Sixers trade Markelle Fultz to Orlando Magic for Jonathon Simmons, first-round pick

Sixers NBA

The Sixers have traded Markelle Fultz to the Orlando Magic for Jonathon Simmons, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick, a team source confirmed to PhillyVoice on Thursday afternoon.

The Athletic's Shams Charania was the first to report the move. 

Philadelphia's more draft-inclined fans will recognize the first-round pick coming back to them. The first-round pick they're getting back in the deal — a 2020 first-round pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder — was actually traded to the Magic in the 2017 NBA Draft by Philadelphia, as part of the package they sent to trade up and select Anzejs Pasecniks that year.

Let's start with Simmons, who rose to prominence with the San Antonio Spurs before signing a deal with the Magic in free agency in 2017. His first year in Orlando was fairly successful, with Simmons scoring at decent efficiency on double the volume he had with the Spurs, but it has been a down year for him this season, with Simmons shooting a ghastly 23 percent from deep in Orlando.

The good news is that he's a good athlete, can defend a couple positions (potentially the point-of-attack), and his contract comes with just a partial guarantee of $1 million next season. That makes him very easy to move this summer if they don't like what they see or want/need to allocate resources elsewhere. But it should be fairly clear that this move was more about the picks and getting off of Fultz's big salary commitment for next season than anything else.

And that pick return is a little surprising, given the team's priorities. Rather than going after a player like Terrence Ross, who would have been more immediately helpful, they targeted a draft asset for down the road. It's a bit of a hedge against their win-now moves, and helps them restock on picks after unloading some good ones for Tobias Harris.

Of greater interest here is the end of the Fultz era in Philadelphia. Regardless of what happens at his next stop in Orlando, he will forever be remembered as the piece they got back in a trade with their archrival Boston Celtics, which allowed the Celtics to pick up an extra asset on top of selecting Jayson Tatum in the 2017 Draft. A move that was viewed as a slam-dunk fit at the time spiraled into madness, leaving us where we are today.

With Philadelphia pushing their chips in to compete right now, Fultz's fate in this town was sealed as soon as they made the move to trade for Tobias Harris. The Sixers will have to rely on cheap production from developing first-round picks while building around an expensive core, but they need those players to be at least semi-reliable. With Fultz's return to the lineup a constant mystery and the recent distance put between his camp and the team, there was no certainty that Philadelphia could rely on him to produce or simply be available when they needed him.

Team sources worried about these sort of things behind the scenes, while Brett Brown came out and said the Sixers could not count on him being part of their playoff rotation heading into the deadline. Fultz was scheduled to make almost $10 million next season, and with salary implications more important to this team than ever, they decided it was not worth the risk to keep Fultz around until the summer.

Had Fultz come back down the stretch and showed the same unwillingness to shoot, the Sixers believed they would have been painted into a corner. With everything else they have going, they made the collective decision to avoid that risk and move on, picking up assets for their trouble.

There will be segments of the fanbase and the broader media landscape that focus on that initial trade with Boston rather than where we sit today. You can't ignore that initial cost, but this is the reality of where Fultz is at as a player on the leaguewide scale. He has not taken a three-point shot (non-heave edition) since before Halloween, he left the team under dubious circumstances in mid-November after being benched, and his future availability is a mystery. There were no signs other than blind hope that things were getting better.

Consider this — Zhaire Smith had surgery on a broken foot and went through a subsequent medical nightmare following an allergic reaction in the fall, and the Sixers have been able to offer several concrete updates about his workload, his progress, and his future in the time since Fultz last suited up for the Sixers. The return they got today, a couple draft assets on top of salary relief and the off chance that Simmons helps you now, is about as well as you were going to do.

There will always be a feeling of "What if?" for Fultz in Philadelphia, and members of the organization from his teammates up through ownership will wish him well at his next stop. Had there not been some belief or support for Fultz, they would have ripped the bandaid off long ago. But if they were confident in where he was as a player or about his return to form, they would not have made this deal.

For a moment, this was once believed to be the team of Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz for the foreseeable future. The former two have shown that they are ready to win and compete right now, and in the simplest possible terms, that meant no more waiting around for the latter.

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